In preparation for today's Congressional Briefing on Media Freedom in Vietnam, organized by members of the U.S. House of Representatives and featuring a panel of Vietnamese bloggers and others, CPJ has been in close contact with the family of Nguyen Van Hai, a blogger who has been in jail since 2008. We have also met with several other bloggers from Vietnam, some of whom are in Washington, D.C. today.
While we seek the release of all imprisoned journalists in Vietnam, we have focused on Hai (also known by the name of his blog Dieu Cay, or Peasant's Pipe) because he was given, in absentia, a CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 2013, and is the longest jailed journalist in Vietnam--since April 2008.
Knowing of today's event, Hai's son, Nguyen Tri Dung, 27, who has remained in Vietnam with his family, sent the message below. As he says, he takes considerable risk in doing so. His family already faces constant harassment from local police and is permitted only restricted visits with their father. The message was translated from the Vietnamese for CPJ by family members:
I am Vietnamese, and by writing these lines I have chosen a path that is not easy for myself, simply because expressing opinion is a dangerous thing in my country. I believe that when one door closes another door will open, so I will take this opportunity to tell you how the country of Vietnam is now full of contradictions.
"Silence is gold" is a phrase ingrained in the minds of the Vietnamese people; what it means is that if you do not accept to remain silent you will lose many precious things. Having to stay silent is a tragedy, because the freedom to voice personal opinion is indispensable to every person in the world, but it is a luxury thing in Vietnam. The Vietnamese government wants people to believe lies rather than accept the truth in any form; they (the authorities) have and will do anything to cover up their wrongdoings. That makes the cost of fighting for a fundamental freedom too high for the people. The cost for speaking your mind in Vietnam is a years-long prison sentence, being murdered by thugs, losing your career and your loved ones, your right to an education, your property, etc. Knowing that you will lose all of these makes it difficult to decide whether to seek the "luxury" of speaking out in Vietnam.
Fear makes people become cowards, and like the majority of ordinary people in Vietnam, I had also been cowardly. But this would be an injustice to those who dare to risk losing everything to speak our love of freedom. No one deserves to suffer terrible losses because of their legitimate demands, or from practicing their basic human rights. I was motivated by the desire to find justice for us and I know I cannot do it alone.
I need you, and I do not intend to lie to you in order to be optimistic. The truth is that those who seek human rights in Vietnam are very much alone because Vietnam is an island where all dissent is buried under more than 800 state-owned newspapers. Efforts to break silence mostly come from courageous bloggers and freelance journalists. They rely on the development of technology to open up new roads and mediums. The government confronts and tries to prevent these journalists by demolishing bridges of information; the bloggers and journalists are trying to send their signal for help by posting information about the Vietnamese authorities who act completely different from what they promise, and act contrary to the agreements they made to respect human rights. Dissidents are suppressed, imprisoned, or terrorized while trying to get your attention today.
I am glad that many human rights organizations and international agencies voiced their "concern" about the situation of the country, but "concern" is repeated for a long time and it has become like a another way of saying the word "powerless." In reality the situation for freedom of speech and human rights in Vietnam has not improved after their "concerns," but actually the level of repression is increased so much that it is impossible to gather evidence to establish violations by the government, or to have observation organizations in the country.
Once all attempts by international agencies to observe human rights and access political prisoners have been denied, the voice of human rights fighters and the accused of violations would forever be just harmless rumors with no evidence. I would like to remind everyone that the spokesman from Vietnam's Foreign Ministry has repeatedly stated that "The criticism of human rights/freedom of speech/freedom of religion in Vietnam is based on false information, lack of objectivity... " whilst purposefully forgetting that the Vietnamese government has prevented international agencies from protecting freedoms and human rights and observing the situation in the country since the beginning. The Vietnamese government has done nothing except be stubborn. While you're busy thinking about other things that are perhaps more important, the prisoners in Vietnam do not have so much time. They are alone in prison. When they feel alone, they lose their reason to fight for something that is everyone's, such as freedom and human rights. What could be more terrible than us losing faith in having a society that respects human rights, and accepting to live our life without rights, not like humans?!
If lucky, a prisoner will be released in exchange for a trade deal, or to help the government get recognition of their supposed human rights improvements. While the government is internationally lauded that some prisoners have been freed, others are arrested and convicted under the same formula. I always look forward for my father to return and escape the horror of prison, but that clearly is not the happy ending to the story of Vietnam. Once this creates a precedent where prisoners are exchanged for a trade agreement, then anyone in the country of Vietnam will be a valuable commodity to exchange in the future; we will become hostages in our own homes.
To the quiet people of Vietnam: I will sympathize with you if you feel scared because you will easily lose all of what you love by choosing to act in a way contrary to what the government wants. Since you have emotions, love and fear is very human. Although "silence is golden," if you have the chance to realize what is more precious than "gold" I know that you will not be silent.
To our international friends; I will not try to convince you what is true. You have the right to be skeptical of my claims. That would be great because it will inspire you to seek answers where the truth is being buried. Please join me in calling for the release of those who fight for human rights, and those who have been arrested for practicing their fundamental rights in Vietnam. Let the Vietnamese government know that they cannot deceive the world by giving smug speeches and that agreements are not an international economic game. They are determined to prevent observer delegations to Vietnam and international prisoner access. If Vietnam really wants to prove that its human rights claims are true, then observer delegations and prisoner access must be allowed. Please help us create opportunities for the silent Vietnamese to speak their voice of freedom.