“The Internet has become the principal staging ground for dissent in Vietnam, and its Communist rulers are trying to clamp down with new laws, stepped up arrests, intimidation and longer prison sentences. But so far, it’s a battle they are losing,” AP reports:
The 7-iron resting against the wall in Le Quoc Quan’s office is for self-defense, not sport. The human-rights lawyer and blogger has not left home without the golf club since being beaten last month by iron-bar-wielding men he suspects were sent by the police.
If the assault was meant to silence him, it failed. Within days he was back online, and reporting about the incident.
“The growth of the Internet is endangering the government,” Quan (above) told The Associated Press. “People can actually read news now. There is a thirst for democracy in our country.”
Experts say Hanoi lacks the money and know-how to comprehensively censor content like its neighbor China, which has a solid firewall and big tech companies that operate their own popular social media products that Beijing can easily control. Vietnam is also undergoing a sharp economic downturn, and the more it restricts the Internet, the more it diminishes an engine of growth that sustains small businesses, connects exporters to markets and encourages innovation.
“Vietnam’s government portrays itself as the sole guardian of the country’s national interest, yet economic slowdown, state-backed land grabs, and perceived territorial concessions to China are increasingly criticized by independent bloggers,” said Shawn Crispin, south east Asia representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
One of the convicted bloggers, Nguyen Van Hai, who writes under the pseudonym Dieu Cay, or Peasant’s Pipe, was among several detained journalists cited by President Barack Obama in a speech on World Press Freedom Day.
The U.S. has called for the bloggers’ release.
“The government’s treatment of Dieu Cay appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to freedom of expression and due process,” said a statement from the U.S Embassy in Hanoi. “There will be more arrests, more protests, but that is OK,” said Quan, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. “It will bring change.”
Land seizures by party officials are an increasingly common online complaint, AP adds, and the issue is seen by many as one of government’s most vulnerable spots. Protests of seizures are often organized online and blogged about afterward.
Such efforts are getting easier as more Vietnamese get online. About 30 percent of them have Internet access, which in Vietnam is growing at one of the fastest rates in Asia. A survey by McKinsey and Co. in April found that the Internet sector currently contributes 1 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic product.
“The government is somehow scrambling to put the genie in the bottle, but you have a much more assertive citizen that has been empowered by new information technology,” said Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch. “The organizing ability of the new social media allows people with disparate agendas to link up more closely.”
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), is calling for concerned individuals to write to the authorities in Viet Nam urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, as well as of all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;
ii. Release Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan immediately and unconditionally as their detention seems to merely sanction their human rights activities and is contrary to national and international law;
iii. Put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Dieu Cay, Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, as well as against all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;
iv. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular: its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;
v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Viet Nam.
H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1 Ton That Dam St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37992000; 080 48235; Fax: 84-4-38231872 – 84-4-37992682, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ·
H.E. Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh, Minister of Interior, 37A Nguyen Binh Khiem St., Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-39764116 – 84-4-39764278; Fax: 84-4-39781005 ·
H.E. Mr. Ha Hung Cuong, Minister of Justice, 56-60 Tran Phu St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37336213 – 84-4-37338068 ; Fax: 84-4-38431431 ·
H.E. Mr. Tran Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security, 44 Yet Kieu St., Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-069 42545 – 84-4-048 226602; Fax: 84-4-9420223 ·
H.E. Mr. Vu Duc Dam, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), 1 Hoang Hoa Tham St. Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-80 43100 ; 84-4-80 43569; Fax: 84-4-80 44130 ·
H.E. Mr Vu Dung, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotential, Permanent Representative, 30 chemin des Corbillettes, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland; Tel (Assistant): +41 022-791 85 40; Phone: +41 (0) 22 791 85 40; Fax : +41 (0) 22-798 07 24; Email : email@example.com ·
HE Mr. PHAM Sanh Chau, Ambassador, Boulevard Général Jacques 1, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: +32 (0)2. 379 27 37 ; Fax : +32 (0)2. 374 93 76; Email : firstname.lastname@example.org – email@example.com Please also write to the embassies of Viet Nam in your respective country.