2013 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee
(Courtesy of Univision)
Nguyen Van Hai is one of the best-known bloggers in Vietnam's burgeoning community of online journalists, who are striving to build an independent alternative to the state news monopoly. Hai is serving a 12-year prison sentence and is slated for five years of house arrest under a vague law that bars "conducting propaganda" against the state.
Hai's blog entries have touched on politically sensitive issues, including protests against China, which disputes Vietnam's claim to the nearby Spratly and Paracel islands, and government corruption. Hai also called for demonstrations against the Beijing Olympic torch relay which passed through Ho Chi Minh City in December 2007.
Hai's troubles began in 2008, when he was imprisoned for five months without charge, after co-founding the unsanctioned Free Journalists Club of Vietnam while maintaining a widely read blog known as Dieu Cay (Peasant's Pipe). A closed court sentenced him to two and a half years in prison in September 2008 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, which rights groups, including CPJ, have criticized as a pretext to stifle his critical blog postings about the government and its policies.
After completing his first prison term, Hai remained in detention while authorities investigated new anti-state charges related to his online journalism, which led to the sentence he is serving today. He has endured solitary confinement and waged a hunger strike. Prison visits are heavily restricted, but family members report that Hai's health has deteriorated to such a degree that he is barely recognizable.
With at least 14 journalists behind bars at the end of 2012, Vietnam is Asia's second worst jailer of the press, trailing only China, according to CPJ research. Many of those in detention have been charged or convicted of anti-state crimes related to their blog postings. Authorities have also ramped up Internet surveillance and filtering and applied even more pressure on the long-repressed mainstream media. The campaign of repression against independent bloggers has intensified in 2013 with harsh prison sentences, new arrests, and other forms of harassment.