Today marks Vietnam Human Rights Day but that’s little consolation for Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan, currently imprisoned in the New Hanoi Hilton,
The Communist is preparing new legislation to stifle dissident bloggers, the latest initiative in what Human Rights Watch has called an intensified wave of repression over recent months.
On Capitol Hill, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission holds a hearing next week on the status of human rights in Vietnam, but some observers believe adept diplomatic positioning helps the regime escape strict censure from Washington.
“Vietnam’s strategic collaboration with the US is more subtle, perhaps by design, so that it can be seen as acting independently while keeping options open with China,” writes Lien Hoang:
The balancing act represents differences that reach the highest echelons of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, between those members looking west versus those clutching to ties with their ideological comrades to the north.
“It’s better to have both the US and China to hold each other at bay, rather than one dominant,” says Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the Australian Defense Force Academy. “Vietnam does not want its relationships with the US and China to be very bad, but it also does not want them to be very good.”
Already deemed an “enemy of the internet” by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Vietnam is preparing a new decree on online content in a bid to repress dissenting voices on the increasingly assertive blogosphere:
When riot police broke up a recent protest over a forced eviction, AFP reports, Vietnam’s bloggers were ready – hidden in nearby trees, they documented the entire incident and quickly posted videos and photos online.
Their shaky images spread like wildfire on Facebook, in a sign of growing online defiance in Vietnam, in the face of efforts by authorities to rein in the country’s internet community.
“They follow me, they keep track of what I am writing; they keep track of all dissident bloggers. Anything they can do to harass us, they do,” said blogger Nguyen Thi Dung, one of several bloggers who publicised the 24 April Hung Yen unrest on a variety of websites.
“They have many people browsing the net, reporting things they don’t like, getting them taken down. It is a perfect copy of what the Chinese are doing on the internet,” she said, asking that her name be changed for her safety.
The authorities appear especially nervous about bloggers forming links with rural protest movements, much as China’s dissident legal advocates connected with popular grievances and Egyptian cyber activists linked up with the labor movement.
So the new decree is “an attempt to keep up with the times,” says Thayer:
In the past, journalists set up blogs to spread information not published in the mainstream press, but “the recent phenomenon of bloggers going to the sites of land protests to cover it virtually live is new.”
Hanoi-based Nguyen Xuan Dien’s live-blogging of the Hung Yen eviction (above) – with photos and video of thousands of riot police evicting farmers and beating two journalists covering the protest – quickly went viral, giving the unrest wide coverage despite being virtually ignored in the state media.
“[The decree will] tighten the screw on internal dissidents and severely restrict their activities by making them, as well as commercial service providers, responsible for material broadcast or stored on the internet,” he said.
Vietnam has enjoyed an international profile as a modernizing Asian Tiger, but liberalization has been strictly limited to the market, while the Market-Leninist regime continues to crack down on political dissent, most notably on Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy group styled after Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77.
The regime is also struggling with an upsurge in labor militancy, and the authorities were recently forced to raise wages and amend the law governing strikes.
Vietnam: Continuing Abuse of Human Rights and Religious Freedom
Tuesday, May 15, 2012, 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM, 340 Cannon Building, Capitol Hill, Washington, DC.
Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a hearing on the status of human rights in Vietnam.
At a time when security and economic interests are driving the United States and Vietnam to strengthen relations in many areas, Vietnam continues to abuse the human rights and religious freedom of its own citizens. The Vietnamese government has increasingly used vague national security laws to target peaceful pro-democracy and religious activists as well as human rights lawyers and citizen journalists who dare to expose the government’s violations of basic freedoms. Just last month, an American citizen, Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan – a pro-democracy activist – was arrested upon arrival in Vietnam and accused of terrorism. In addition, while the Vietnamese Constitution provides for freedom of religion, activities of religious organizations are strictly regulated and disputes have been growing in recent years over the seizure of church and temple land by local governments.
This hearing will explore the challenges faced by democracy activists and religious organizations in Vietnam.
The following witnesses will testify:
Panel 1: Michael H. Posner, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
Panel 2: Dr. Robert George, Commissioner, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Panel 3: Vo Van Ai, Founder and President of Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam; Mai Huong Ngo, wife of imprisoned Vietnamese-American Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan; Phu Do Nguyen, Vice President, Saigon Broadcasting Television Network (SBTN).
Contact the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission at 202-225-3599 or email@example.com.