Internet the ‘de facto forum’ for Vietnam’s dissenting voices


Credit: VCHR

A prominent blogger and environmental activist in Vietnam was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison on charges of national security offenses, including sharing anti-state propaganda on social media, The New York Times reports:

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (above), better known by her online handle Mother Mushroom, had been held incommunicado since she was arrested in October, and attendance at her trial was strictly controlled.

But barely one hour after the verdict was handed down on Thursday, one of Ms. Quynh’s lawyers summarized his arguments and posted her final statement at the trial to his 61,000 Facebook followers. “I hope that everyone will speak up and fight, overcome their own fears to build a better country,” she said, according to the lawyer. The statement was reposted thousands of times.

Quynh’s conviction and prison sentence were condemned by human rights groups, including the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), which called for her immediate and unconditional release.

French-Vietnamese dissident blogger Pham Minh Hoang was recently deported to France after losing his nationality of birth, the BBC adds. Pham Minh Hoang served a jail sentence after being convicted in 2011 over articles that “blackened the image of the country”.

Credit: VOA

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s most wanted human rights and environmental activist, Bach Hong Quyen (right), is safe and considering taking up residence outside his homeland, he told VOA’s Vietnamese service after weeks on the run from authorities who issued a warrant for him in May.

“I feel quite safe,” Quyen said, speaking to VOA from an undisclosed location. “I don’t think the Vietnamese police can find me.”

Zeynep Tufekci’s recently-published Twitter and Tear Gas highlights both the power and the fragility of networked protest.

But in authoritarian Vietnam, the internet has become the de facto forum for the country’s growing number of dissenting voices, The Times adds:

Facebook connections in particular have mobilized opposition to government policies; they played a key role in mass protests against the state’s handling of an environmental disaster last year. Now, the government is tightening its grip on the internet, arresting and threatening bloggers, and pressing Facebook and YouTube to censor what appears on their sites.

“Facebook is being used as an organizing tool, as a self-publishing platform, as a monitoring device for people when they are being detained and when they get released,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. Facebook is used “to connect communities that otherwise wouldn’t be connected,” he said.

Despite recent repression [detailed in a recent report from the National Endowment for Democracy], the transformation wrought by the internet in a short period had been “astonishing and hopeful,” said Jonathan London, a Vietnam specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

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