FULL TEXT: Vietnam’s independent bloggers and journalists testify before U.S. Congress

(VNRN) – Despite efforts by the Vietnamese government to prevent their travel, six independent bloggers and journalists from Vietnam arrived in Washington DC and on Apr 29 briefed the U.S. Congress on the need for media freedom in Vietnam. Two others, blogger Nguyen Lan Thang and VRNs reporter Anna Huyen Trang were stopped at the airport but their testimonies were presented by video.

www.VietnamRightNow.com obtained the text of live testimonies presented at the Congressional briefing. The witnesses were speaking in Vietnamese and their statements were translated into English.

The Congressional briefing is receiving so much attention in Vietnam, even the People’s Army official newspaper was compelled to attack it.

 

The Status of Media Freedom in Vietnam
Testimony by To Oanh (Tô Oánh), independent journalist

A former school teacher, To Oanh is an author, writer, blogger, and journalist from the northern province of Bac Giang. He has been constantly harassed by the police.

I am a retired school teacher. Previously I was a contributor for state media where I tried to expose problems in society and offer suggestions for improving the educational curriculum.

Over time, newspapers in Vietnam have lost readership as the contents have worsened. The intervention of the Communist Party’s Propaganda Committee, and the monthly meetings it convenes with all the editors-­in­chief, have diminished the distinctiveness of each newspaper and made these media outlets wary of covering any kind of “sensitive” news. Hence, state­owned newspapers have focused on sensational but largely meaningless stories. No newspaper really touches on big national issues.

With the development of the Internet, I have become a citizen journalist, writing for other websites and my own blog. Since 2007, I have published my writings on forums such as Diendan, VietCatholic, BoxitVN under the pen name Tran Tu Ha or my own name. These pieces focus on the realities of society. As a result, the public security started following me and accusing me of receiving money from abroad to tarnish the image of the regime. Along with my participation in public protests against China’s territorial encroachment on Vietnam, the public security has repeatedly harassed and interrogated me, including once for 17 days straight.

 

The Role of Blogs in Social Progress
Testimony by blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy (Nguyễn Tường Thụy)

Nguyen Tuong Thuy is a blogger and activist, who has spoken out repeatedly against government abuses and greater public participation in protecting Vietnamese territorial integrity. He has been detained and interrogated for his activities.

In Vietnam, the media is managed by the state. This strict censorship results in a product that is detached from reality and degrades the skills of journalists.

However, the rapid growth of the internet has led to the development of a new media online (and I’m not referring here to the websites of state­owned media). The blogosphere has provided readers with multiple perspectives and viewpoints for freedom, democracy and human rights. While many bloggers have had to pay a high price for utilizing this new medium, the repression and restrictions by the authorities has been unable to stop the rapid growth of social media.

Social media in Vietnam has taken the form of websites, blogs and Facebook with the advantage of timely coverage on issues that really matter to people’s lives. At a time when readers have become bored with the one­way reporting of state media, social media is filling their needs. Blogs have become a challenger to state newspapers, forcing them to change they way they write and cover the news.

I strongly believe the Vietnamese government must loosen its censorship. It must allow private newspapers and broadcasts to operate and publish. In the long run, there must be a pluralistic political system with separation of powers to truly safeguard freedom of the press and other basic human rights.

 

A High Price To Pay
Testimony by independent journalist Le Thanh Tung (Lê Thanh Tùng, Anthony Le)

A prolific writer, Anthony Le has covered numerous instances of human rights violations, including many cases of land grab where the government confiscated peasant land leaving them with no means of making a living. Le himself lost his job and is unable to find work after security police threatened potential employers.

Many writers and bloggers who have exposed the ills and problems of society have been handed harsh prison sentences for their actions: Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay), Le Van Son, Tran Minh Nhat, Dang Xuan Dieu, Ta Phong Tan, Truong Duy Nhat, Pham Viet Dao, Le
Quoc Quan, and many others whose names I’ve attached to my testimony.

Furthermore, at the same time that these men and women are serving their sentences, their families are also enduring harassment and intimidation from authorities, resulting in unconscionable and tragic circumstances. A notable case involves the mother of Ta Phong Tan who, in protest of her daughter’s wrongful imprisonment and harsh treatment, carried out the horrific act of self-­immolation. In the instance of Le Van Son, he was not even informed that his mother had become ill and passed away while he was behind bars.

For those writers and bloggers not yet imprisoned, their daily lives are dotted with acts of harassment, intimidation and, at times, physical beatings, such as the case of journalist Huyen Trang (VRNs), who was jailed and beaten in the course of covering political trials against freelance journalists in 2012.

Public security thugs illegally broke into the home of blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy in late September 2013, beating and detaining him.

As for myself, I was fired by my employer under pressure from the public security apparatus and barred from making a living, leaving my family to live under tenuous circumstances.

 

There Is No Artistic Expression in Vietnam
Testimony by Nguyen Thi Kim Chi, award-winning playwright and film actress

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. In 2013, Kim Chi 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.”

In Vietnam, content creators face serious consequences when they touch certain topics and are quickly branded as “subversives”. And when you are considered a subversive, you lose all your freedoms and economic interests and often your friends as well. No newspaper or publishing house will dare to publish your work and hence the artist lives under depredation. Artists and musicians in the “Nhan Van Giai Pham” movement such as Tran Dan, Le Dat, Phung Quan, Van Cao are examples of people whose freedom of expression was taken away.

Today, restrictions over freedom of expression have not changed and are often even heavier. For example the poet Bui Minh Quoc dared to speak the truth and as result was expelled from the Communist Party, lost his sources of income, and was placed under house arrest. His family also faced retribution.

I have chosen to speak up.

All the suffering of victims of government corruption, the repression of media freedom, the restrictions against demonstrations against Chinese encroachment have motivated me to speak out. I have been called all sorts of names as a result: “Selling out the nation for dollars”, “subversive”, “working with the enemy”, “lackey” and a “dog”.

But I am not afraid. I am committed to walking forward with my people to demand a life of freedom, equality, fraternity, prosperity, and reconciliation.

 

Internet Freedom in Vietnam and Recommendations
Testimony by blogger Nguyen Dinh Ha (Nguyễn Đình Hà)

Nguyen Dinh 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.

With the Internet, we have our own world of information, where people can freely express and share anything. However, in Vietnam, these basic freedoms are under threat by the government, as it wants to control all sources of information that is contrary to the interests of the state.

A case in point is that the Vietnamese government issued Decree 72/2013/ND­CP to control Internet service providers and restrict citizens from sharing news. Under vague legal pretexts, the Vietnamese authorities have detained and convicted numerous people in recent years for expressing their views on social media. These actions hinder transparency, directly harm the international image of Vietnam, and impede efforts to tackle corruption and other problems facing the country.

Hence, I’d like to offer the following recommendations for the US Congress:

First, compel the Vietnamese government to honor its international obligations on human rights, to dismantle its censorship apparatus and to cease its persecution against journalists and netizens.

Second, urge the Vietnamese government to open up the media market in the country and allow for a truly independent press.

 

Together, We Must Raise Our Voice
Testimony by Ngo Nhat Dang (Ngô Nhật Đăng), independent journalist

Ngo Nhat 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.

Simply for wishing for a life of honesty, with the desire to speak the truth, so many of our people, friends and family, have been oppressed and attacked, have been imprisoned, some have even lost their lives.
We want to escape this grim reality, we want the freedom to speak up about the truth. We also know that the government of Vietnam has signed onto the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

We also believe that, within our abilities and with international support in calling attention to issues of freedom of expression and freedom of press in Vietnam, this issue can be turned into a US House Resolution.

In TPP negotiations with the Vietnamese government, we call on the American government to leverage human rights and in particular, freedom of speech.

Please help and support us, not simply with your empathy but also your conscience and responsibility for a peaceful and progressive world. Please stand with the people of my country!

A democratic Vietnam is in the interest of all of us.

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