Free speech ‘under siege’ in Vietnam


More than 100 Vietnamese – an unprecedented amount – tried to run in the May 22 election as independents, including activists bent on testing the party’s sincerity about fostering inclusiveness and a democratic spirit, Reuters reports:

But almost all the self-nominated candidates in Hanoi failed to get on the ballot. The two who passed vetting in Hanoi were directors of medical and environmental research institutes run by the government.

[M]any independents complained the Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella group of the party’s social organizations, had rigged the process to keep ordinary people out…..Nguyen Dinh Nam, who runs a tech company, won approval of 99 percent of constituents at his hearing. He said they voted with a show of hands rather than risk manipulation of a secret ballot, but he still didn’t make the cut.

“You don’t like outsiders in the system – the trust of 99 percent of people is not as important as your plan?” he wrote in a Facebook swipe at the Fatherland Front.

Vietnamese doctor and pro-democracy activist Nguyen Dan Que (above) and the Malaysian civil society group Bersih 2.0 are co-recipients of the 2016 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights Committee from the South Korean May 18 Memorial Foundation for their contributions to promote human rights, democracy and peace:

Born in April 1942 in Hanoi and receiving an MD from Saigon University, Mr. Quy has fought for human rights and democracy and criticized the Communist regime’s discriminatory health care policy. He was outspoken on behalf of those who had no voice, challenging the government’s practice of selectively treating Communist party members while neglecting the poor.

In 1976, he joined forces with some friends who shared his frustration at the lack of basic human rights in Vietnam and founded the non-violent National Progressive Front. Dr Que was arrested along with nearly 50 fellow activists and was detained for 10 years without formal charges or a trial, beaten, tortured and placed in solitary confinement.

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh is no radical; he was once a police officer in the Ministry of Public Security in Hanoi, later a private investigator, and is the son of a former Vietnamese government minister who served as ambassador to the Soviet Union, The Washington Post notes:

After leaving the police, Mr. Vinh started several popular blogs that provided links to articles about social, political, economic and cultural issues in Vietnam, drawing from state media and from activists.

The blogs were too much for Vietnam’s authoritarian rulers, who control the major news outlets and restrict speech, association and religion. In May 2014, Mr. Vinh was detained, along with his assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. ..Then, on March 23, the bloggers were put on trial, accused of “abusing rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.” Prosecutors said some of the articles on their site had “untruthful and groundless contents” that tarnished the country’s image. Mr. Vinh was sentenced to five years in prison and his assistant to three years. 

“Even though the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not explicitly about democracy, the United States ought to bring up human rights at every opportunity, to drive home the point that blogging and human rights workshops are consistent with an open and free society,” the Post adds. “President Obama, due to make his first visit to Vietnam next month, ought to carry the message personally. Vietnam’s besieged bloggers and human rights defenders would find it encouraging.”

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