Cracking Down on Free Speech in Vietnam

Between reports of arbitrary imprisonment, government crackdown, and widespread unaccountability, small amounts of good news can surface from inside communist states. “Mother Mushroom”, who was an activist blogger who was imprisoned by the Vietnamese government, was granted exile in the United States and allowed to leave with her family. While this is certainly excellent, Vietnam as a whole is seeing anything but improvement.

In the months leading up to Mother Mushroom’s release, Vietnam committed a series of human rights abuses. In June, the government responded harshly to protests in Ho Chi Minh City by arresting several protesters. One of them, William Anh Nguyen, is an American citizen. However, he was forced to stand trial and could have been sentenced to seven years in a Vietnamese prison. Fortunately, he was only forced to leave the country within one day. Twenty other protesters, all Vietnamese nationals, were also convicted, and it is highly unlikely that they will receive the same light punishment.

The most startling part of this situation is what it tells us about the Vietnamese stance concerning protests. The right to demonstrate is technically protected in the Vietnamese constitution, but as Vi Tran, a human rights lawyer from Taiwan explains, “Vietnam still has no law providing for the right to peaceful assembly as required by the Constitution”. There is no pressure on the single party regime to do anything to change or fulfill its responsibility to the people, and therefore, it does not.

The second important note about this situation is that the protests were not even conducted against the government, per se. In many stories like this one, the protesters are directly opposed to the government on an ideological level, which is something that could threaten the government and thus can justify a violent response. In this case however, the demonstrations were protesting against a policy that was recently passed to “grant long-term leases for foreign companies operating in special economic zones (SEZs)”. In essence, these protests were against Chinese companies working in specific areas of Vietnam. The government’s response? The national assembly chairwoman “called on protesters to remain calm and trust in decisions made by Vietnam’s government and ruling Communist Party”.

This violence against any questions of government authority continued into September. A series of journalists went missing in Vietnam. Ngo Van Dung, Xuan Hong, and Pham Vu Phong were all reported as detained by police in early September. They were all active social media users. Ngo worked as a blogger with the Reviving Vietnam Campaign (Chan Hung Nuoc Viet), which is pro-democracy group, and one day, he was seized by the police. His wife was given no information as to where he was imprisoned, and as of now, very little information is available about his location.

Xuan’s and Pham’s statuses are also uncertain. After they were seized, their families attempted to communicate with authorities to figure out where they were located, but in the end, they never received a formal notice of or an explanation for what had happened and where their loved ones had gone.

These sorts of detentions are unfortunately common it Vietnam. The takeaway is that even though one incredible activist has been granted her freedom, much progress is still needed in Vietnam. This country is not interested in fulfilling any duty to its people to protect their rights, rather, the government cracks down whenever necessary in order to preserve security.