Crackdown on Bloggers in Vietnam

Are you a blogger or a social activist in Vietnam? Now might be a good time to start getting worried.

The Vietnamese government’s latest push against online speech occurred in a two-day-show trial on January 8th (as many activists have dubbed it), in which 14 Vietnamese social activists of various stripes were convicted of “subversion of the administration” under Vietnam’s Article 79. This can can carry penalties as extreme as death.

Most were Roman Catholic: all were accused of being Viet Tan members, an opposition party in exile that the Vietnamese government has long accused of being terrorist in nature. Thirteen of those convicted were sentenced to prison terms between three and 16 years in length.

“This is very much a trial on whether Vietnamese are permitted basic freedoms,” commented Viet Tan spokesperson Duy Hoang of the case. “The authorities failed to demonstrate a single action by these 14 activists that caused harm to society or would be considered unlawful under international standards…We challenge the Hanoi regime to explain how any of these peaceful activities can be considered “terrorist.”‘

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recently stepped in to register its disapproval of Vietnam’s latest move against free speech, and human rights groups from Human Rights Watch to Amnesty International have openly condemned the arrests, claiming that they violate both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (to which Vietnam is a party) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Viet Tan claims that eight of the group were either bloggers or “cyber-dissidents,” a group that appears to be treated with somewhat special vitriol by the Vietnamese government.

Reporters Without Borders is currently attempting to construct an alibi for blogger Paulus Le Son, claiming that he couldn’t have attended a Viet Tan meeting in July because he was attending a RWB event in Bangkok — admittedly, not a particularly popular organization with the Vietnamese government, either, which Reporters Without Borders calls the “world’s second biggest prison for netizens after China.” 

Recent trends indicate that the 14 convicted last week aren’t going to be the last so treated in 2013: many political observers agree that we’re looking at a rather disturbing growing trend of government push-back against activists and bloggers —indeed, the Vietnamese prime minister himself called for tougher investigations into “anti-government” blogs and websites back in September.

This crackdown, apparently sanctioned at the highest levels of government, has serious implications both for Vietnamese human rights, and perhaps even for Vietnam’s burgeoning economy — which has propelled the Southeast Asian nation to a remarkable post-war recovery.

Stanford senior lecturer of law Allen S. Weiner has taken note of the uptick in oppression: in July of 2012, he filed a petition with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, calling for the release of 17 activists detained for “subversion of the administration” by their own government (a number of whom were convicted on the 8th).

“I do believe that Vietnam’s crack-down on human rights activists will affect Western businesses to rethink their investments there,” said Weiner.

“Multinational companies around the world are increasingly integrating concerns about corporate social responsibility into their business decisions,” he added, noting other countries in the region can offer the value of Vietnam without the taint of association with an oppressive government.

“The young Vietnamese activists who were convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms are being punished for doing what people all over the free world do as a routine matter,” said Weiner to UN Dispatch of the case.

“The government of Vietnam’s effort to criminalize nonviolent political activity of this kind is a violation of international law rules and basic principles of freedom embraced around the world,” he added.