This blog post was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

2nd May 2013 Hanoi, Vietnam

Case study: Vietnam

In 1988, when Dr Ha Si Phu wrote a think-piece entitled “a shared journey of the intellect” it was subsequently photocopied and passed from hand to hand by his closest associates.

This piece, which exposed flaws in Marxist-Leninist theory, was well received by intellectuals and the wider public at that time. Right after that, for more than a year, Ha Si Phu not only endured criticism by the mainstream media and a number of state ideologues – at the request of the authorities – but also was sent to prison afterwards.

Following his release, Phu was put on probation and has been under surveillance ever since. His probation came to an end in 2003, but to date anyone visiting him has been watched closely, and harassed, by the security forces.

Three prominent bloggers  Nguyen Van Hai (also known as “Dieu Cay”), Ta Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai founded the “Free Journalists Club” to present their views about the Chinese invasion of Vietnam’s territorial waters, including their actions against Vietnamese fishermen, to support victims of injustice and marginalised people and to denounce the wrongdoings of state officials.

They ended up being arrested and sentenced to many years in prison.

Journalist Pham Chi Dung, an official at Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee’s Office, had written articles analysing the social, political and economic situation since 2011, published on both Vietnamese and foreign websites. In 2012 Dung was arrested and charged with propaganda against the state and providing reactionary documents to the foreign media.

The investigation has just been suspended and he is now out on bail because no evidence against him has been produced.

Student Nguyen Phuong Uyen didn’t blog. She expressed and distributed her thoughts about China’s encroachment of Vietnam’s waters. But she was kidnapped by security forces and illegally detained without charge for many days.

Following pressure from her family and the public, Long An province’ police finally announced Uyen’s arrest for her involvement in disseminating leaflets against the regime. To date Nguyen Phuong Uyen remains in custody pending further investigation.

These are just three cases amongst many – all cases where Vietnamese citizens, journalists and bloggers have been suppressed in the last 10 years for trying to express their views and opinions peacefully because such opinion cannot find a place in the mainstream media, which is entirely dependent on the government and strictly controlled by the ruling party.

Statistics show that approximately 700 media agencies are permitted to operate in Vietnam now. Almost all of them are strictly controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam, government agencies and mass organizations. Editors-in-chief of these agencies are loyal party members: every week, they sit in a meeting to get direct instructions from the political ideology arm of the Party.

The voices of the people that don’t follow the lines of the Communist Party of Vietnam will never find a place in the state-monitored media.

Before the Internet freedom of expression barely existed here. The introduction of the Internet into Vietnam has led to the blooming of a vibrant web and blogosphere during the last 10 years and in this way freedom of expression has gradually developed.

As an example there are a number of prestigious blogs which receive more than 100,000 page views per day including Osin, Ba Sam, Que choa, Bauxite Vietnam, Nguyen Xuan Dien, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Nguoi Buon Gio, Pham Viet Dao, Truong Duy Nhat… These blogs together with many others such as To Hai, Thuy Linh, Doan Trang, Mai Xuan Dung, Giang Nam Lang Tu, Bui Thi Minh Hang, Le Hien Duc, JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, Bui Van Bong, Xuan Viet Nam, Ba Dam Xoe, Dao Tuan, Nguyen Thong, Manh Quan, Nhat Tuan, Nguyen Trong Tao, Pham Hong Son… have created a diverse media system of “citizen journalism” existing in parallel with the government-controlled media system.

However “citizen journalism” has quickly become the prime target of government repression. Bloggers have been constantly harassed and physically assaulted. While some blogs have been forced to shut down others are blocked by firewalls or attacked by hackers.

The people of Vietnam have to overcome both challenges to the exercise of their legitimate right to freedom of expression, drastically repressed by the government, and fear. But their voices can’t be stamped out. When blogs are blocked by firewalls, bloggers and netizens share with each other the ways to pass through those barriers.

When blogs are hacked, the blogs’ owners create new blogs straight away. When a blogger is suppressed, other bloggers raise their voices in support immediately. When a blogger is arrested, a number of new bloggers spring up with an even stronger will. When a blogger is released from imprisonment they continue their enduring struggle with an unwavering spirit: the work and arguments of Bui Hang, Ha Si Phu and Pham Chi Dung became much sharper and more profound after their release.

The fight for media freedom, and other human rights, remains a formidable one.

To mark the 20th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, 2013, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aims to “shine a light” to highlight repression of the media and freedom of expression using personal testimonies and other accounts from around the world.

For more information on our activities on freedom of expression, and human rights more broadly, read our 2012 annual human rights report.

  • The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), or its policies.

2 comments on “Case study: Vietnam

  1. Dear Sir Huynh Ngoc Chenh,
    after I ´ve read your Case Study Vietnam for 3 times, I do think that I ´ve got a proper inside knowledge of what is happening behind the official scene. Plus : I do very , very often write little reports /comments to the British Ambassador in Hanoi, Sir Antony Stokes. An
    really outstandingdiplomat. But the topic here is “Case Study”. And it ´s in my opinion nearly unbelievable of what has happen since 1988.I.e. the case of “a shared journey of the intellect “. For I believe , that the more of intellectuals a state has got – the better it is for a better future. Personally, I ´m West-German. but such incidents reminds me immediately to old, unhappy East-German days. The so-called “STASI” have got the exactly same manners. I ´m also depressed in re. of the three prominent bloggers. Wondering of how they living now. All in all , you don ´t can stand it of how the Vietnamese Government is treading their own inhabitants untill today, August 2013. My only hope is , that the INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY is drawing a striking attention to all these sad facts – and the tragic fates of all these people. So, give them a name and a face. They don ´t deserve it to get “lost”. In fact, it would be a human crime if we should ever §forget” them !
    Within this context, there ´s a famous German saying , that points out of what has to be done. ” Jedes Gesicht erzählt seine eigene Geschichte, die wir nicht vergessen dürfen”.
    In this sense : KEEP STIFF UPPER LIP & DON ´t GIVE UP!
    Best wishes and success, grösstmöglicher Erfolg im Kampf für Demokratie. Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart, Deutschland

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About Huynh Ngoc Chenh

Huynh Ngoc Chenh is one of Vietnam’s most influential bloggers. His blog attracts about 15,000 visitors per day, even though readers must use software to circumvent censorship to gain access.…

Huynh Ngoc Chenh is one of Vietnam’s most influential bloggers. His blog attracts about 15,000 visitors per day, even though readers must use software to circumvent censorship to gain access. Chenh criticizes the government and defends freedom of expression. He focuses on issues of democracy, human rights and the territorial disputes between Vietnam and China. Authorities have threatened him numerous times for his articles and police monitor his communications.