Thursday, October 31, 2013

Vietnam: Tale of Two Bloggers

Dinh Nhat Uy (Pic. courtesy RSF)


The power of social media and how repressive governments like Vietnam’s have grown to fear it was evident earlier this week. Blogger Dinh Nhat Uy was given a 15-month suspended sentence – which severely restricts movement – for criticising the government on Facebook, while Nguyen Lan Thang who was taken into custody at Hanoi airport and released a day later, posted the sequence of events, also on Facebook.

Media watchdogs say the real reason for sentencing Uy is because he campaigned for his brother, blogger Dinh Nguyen Kha, imprisoned for four years for anti-government propaganda. They point out that material on which Uy was convicted was four posts written in December 2012, although he was arrested only in June this year as the campaign to release of Kha began to gather momentum.


Uy was indicted under Section 258 of Vietnam’s criminal code for “abusing democratic freedoms against the interests of the state and the legitimate rights and interests of organisations and individuals.” Under the law, he could have been jailed for seven years. Uy’s conviction is the first against a blogger using Facebook.

“A new decree for governing the Internet that came into effect on September 1 restricts the types of content that foreign companies are allowed to host on their Vietnam-related websites or social media platforms,” said, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). It added that there is no information whether Facebook will be held accountable.

The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said, referring to Kah, that Uy’s sentence was an example of how family members of jailed dissidents were harassed by the authorities.

RSF also deplored Uy was not granted due process. “Like the denial of defence rights during Kha’s appeal hearing, today’s presence of 400 plainclothes police in the courtroom to create the illusion of a public hearing and the harassment of Uy’s lawyers, which led one of them, Nguyen Thanh Luong, to withdraw from the case, highlight the bogus nature of these trials, whose outcome is decided in advance.”

Meanwhile, in what appears a mild response to the stiff prison sentences and other privations by which pro-democracy activists are usually punished, Nguyen Lan Thang was released after 24 hours in police custody. He recorded the event on Facebook with an almost lighthearted, “Too much taxpayer’s money has been spent on me since yesterday. My apologies to all of you.”

However, Thang seemed prepared to face arrest and detention at the airport when returning from a meeting with human rights activists abroad. Not only was there a group of activists to receive him, but they posted a message Thanng had recorded before he set out on his return journey to Vietnam.

“‘In a video message posted by activists soon after his detention at the Hanoi airport Wednesday night, Nguyen Lan Thang said, “When you see this video, it’s certain that I have been arrested by security forces,’” reported Associated Press (AP).

Thang’s use of the media to publicise the government’s violations are reminiscent of Ai Weiwei who once used the camera to record and social media to transmit the Chinese government destroying his studio.

AP said that non-violent activists are detained for a day or two but could also be ordered long prison sentences. It quoted Human Rights Watch that up to 61 dissidents had been convicted and handed down prison sentences – many for dissent via the internet – this year which was a significant increase from 40 in 2012.

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