Vietnamese activists in U.S. advocating for press freedom

(VNRN) – A group of bloggers and digital activists from Vietnam are visiting the United States to mark World Press Freedom Day and will participate in a series of public events in Washington D.C. to discuss the challenges and opportunities in promoting a free media in Vietnam.

The visiting netizens, invited by members of the U.S. Congress and free-press organizations, will engage directly with policy makers, human rights organizations and Internet companies. They will also participate in training programs on citizen journalism and digital security.

Participants will brief the U.S. Congress on Apr 29, and the activities will culminate in a “Towards a Free Media in Vietnam” seminar on May 1 held at Radio Free Asia’s offices.

Landing in Washington D.C. on Apr 18 were bloggers Ngo Nhat Dang (Ngô Nhật Đăng) and Nguyen Dinh Ha (Nguyễn Đình Hà) as well as movie star Kim Chi.

To Oanh (Tô Oanh), a writer, arrived the next day. Others are expected in the next few days. Oanh is an author, writer, blogger, and journalist from the northern province of Bac Giang.

Dang is a writer and veteran of Vietnam’s border war with China. He is a frequent presence at protests that were disrupted by the police. His father is the poet Xuan Sach, a long-time writer for publications by the People’s Army of Vietnam.

Ha, from Hanoi, is a blogger who joined others in presenting a statement seeking the repeal of Article 258 to foreign diplomats. For his part in presenting the statement to the Swedish Embassy, he has been called in by the police several times for questioning.

Article 258 of the Vietnam Penal Code is a vague and overbroad provision that provides up to seven years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State.”

Kim Chi, a film actress given the honorific Excellent Artist by the government of Vietnam, had volunteered to join the battlefield during the war and worked in the frontline for 10 years. She was a constant presence in many films, including numerous propaganda films in support of the communist forces.

Kim Chi (L) in a photo from a war propaganda film for the communist forces.

In 2013, Kim Chi caused shock waves throughout the acting world and beyond when she publicly renounced a certificate of merit signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, stating that she did not want in her home “the signature of someone who caused misery to this country and her people.”

Highlighting the challenges faced by the online community in Vietnam, authorities in Hanoi blocked three of the invited journalists from traveling to participate in these events. These included Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Lan Thang and Anna Huyen Trang.

Dung, a writer and civil society advocate, had his passport arbitrarily confiscated in February and until now, has been banned from traveling. Thang, a blogger, was stopped at Hanoi Airport and prevented from boarding his flight on Apr 5. Trang, a reporter for Vietnamese Redemptorists’ News, was stopped at Ho Chi Minh City’s airport on Apr 13.

“The obstacles faced by these individuals give meaning to World Press Freedom Day and are a reminder of the Vietnamese government’s ongoing efforts to suppress the free flow of information,” the organizers said in a written statement.

The event is jointly organized by Access, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Radio Free Asia, Reporters Without Border, and Viet Tan.

Access, also known as AccessNow.org, is an international non-profit, human rights, public policy and advocacy group dedicated to an open and free Internet.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, commonly known as EFF, is a non-profit digital rights group based in the United States and provides legal defense, presents amicus briefs, and otherwise is involved in defending civil liberties in the digital world.

Radio Free Asia, funded by the U.S. Congress, is a media organization whose mission is “to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.”

Reporters Without Border, better by its French acronym RSF, is an international non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press.

Viet Tan, whose Vietnamese name means Vietnam Reform Party, is a political party with a network of members inside Vietnam and around the world, that aims to establish democracy and reform Vietnam through peaceful and political means.

(Photo top: Invited speakers for the “Toward a Free Media for Vietnam” event, from left, To Oanh, Kim Chi, Nguyen Dinh Ha, Ngo Nhat Dang, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.)

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