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August 30 2013

How Vietnam Got its Name

Le Minh Khai traces the history of how Vietnam got its name and explains the inaccuracies in some historical accounts about the origins of the name.

Ultimately, the name Việt Nam is related to the Nguyễn clan’s southward expansion of the Lê Dynasty realm. What it signifies is that the Nguyễn created and ruled over something bigger than An Nam. It is a recognition of imperial expansion.

August 28 2013

Campaigning for a Smoke-Free Southeast Asia

There are several initiatives in Southeast Asia which discourage young people from smoking. Among the groups leading the campaign is the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) whose objectives include the “developing and putting in place [of] effective tobacco control policies” in the region. Let us review some of the activities reported by SEATCA on their website.

Early this month, about 140 youth and students from Thailand held a protest rally in front of the Bangkok office of Philip Morris International and demanded the withdrawal of the lawsuit it filed against the Thailand government which issued an order requiring 85 percent pictorial warnings in cigarette packs. The 140 protesters symbolize 140 daily deaths from tobacco use in Thailand.

Several groups also issued an open letter to Philip Morris about the issue:

You may need to ask yourself whether your effort to avoid compliance to Thai domestic law by filing the lawsuit against Ministry of Public Health, in order to increase sales volume of your products by attracting more children and youth to become your customers in the replacement of those who already died or in illness, is ethical practice.

Thai students warn against the dangers of smoking. Photo from Facebook of ASH Thailand

Thai students warn against the dangers of smoking. Photo from Facebook of ASH Thailand

Anti-Smoking Protest in Bangkok

Anti-Smoking Protest in Bangkok. Photo from Facebook of ASH Thailand

Meanwhile in Vietnam, it was reported two weeks ago that the government is already implementing the law requiring graphic health warnings in cigarette packs.

Graphic Health Warning in Vietnam. Photo by Vinacosh/Ms.Doan Thu Huyen

Graphic Health Warning in Vietnam. Photo by Vinacosh/Ms.Doan Thu Huyen

This music video features Mr. Trinh Thang Binh, a Vietnamese pop singer who composed a song against smoking

In Cambodia, members of the Cambodian Red Cross youth teamed up with city officials in launching a campaign “to warn cigarette retailers about violations in tobacco advertising and promotion in the form of small posters at points-of-sale.”

…youth carried signboards bearing the message “tobacco advertising in any form violates the government’s Sub-Decree” and “Thank you for Not Advertising Cigarettes.” The youth volunteers walked with local authorities to grocery stores and restaurants checking if cigarette advertisements existed. When cigarette advertisements were found, the youths stood in front of the store or restaurant with the signboards raised up.

In the Philippines, 14,000 people participated in the attempt to form the world’s biggest human no-smoking logo at the Bicol University grounds in Legazpi City, Albay.

Human No-Smoking Logo in Albay, Philippines. Photo from @PhilippineStar

Human No-Smoking Logo in Albay, Philippines. Photo from @PhilippineStar

Jessa Acuna is proud of this event:

This is not only an attempt for a world record but a huge step to increase awareness among Filipinos and everybody around the world that smoking is the most preventable cause of diseases.

Gaining attention and nationwide coverage, officials are hoping to affect every Filipino. I am a proud Albayano myself and this is my own little way to support this campaign. Let this be not only just an event but a reminder.

Sensing the growing popularity of e-cigarettes in the country, the Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory about the dangers of promoting the product:

Wittingly or unwittingly, the electronic cigarette promotes smoking among children and the youth. It makes them less fearful of hazards and risks of smoking. It is opposed to the Department of Health goal to stop cigarette smoking and tobacco use.

The public is advised NOT to smoke at all and NOT to use cigarettes, cigars, or e-cigarettes.

The Philippine Medical Association also warned against the negative impact of using e-cigarettes:

…the use of e-cigs is not an ‘alternative lifestyle’ as claimed by its proponents and promoters but is actually a new and an ‘alternative vice’ which should not be taught to the public in general and our children in particular.

Our young ones can easily be enticed and duped into smoking by these novelty devices. Despite the reported smoking of our President he can still be a crucial factor in our fight against the evils of smoking in this country.

August 21 2013

Bicycles in Vietnam

Karen Hewell and Marc Forster-Pert featured some of the common bicycles used in Vietnam such as the mountain bike, the Thong Nhat GN-03 model, 1930 Calla, Surly’s ‘Karate Monkey’, Mumar M-2 Sportbike, and the racer.

August 18 2013

VIDEO: Father of Jailed Vietnamese Blogger Speaks About his Case

The 88 Project uploads a video interview of the father of Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, the Vietnamese blogger who is facing a 16-year jail term for allegedly spreading anti-government propaganda.

…to claim innocence for him we have many times appealed to the top state leaders and related government agencies for reconsidering his law case in a court of cassation. Through repeated petitions, I have presented proof that the unfinished book written by Thuc together with 2 other democracy activists is purely for the purpose of building and developing the country based on the respect for human rights

August 11 2013

Guerre des nationalismes en mer de Chine

L'escalade des tensions en mer de Chine méridionale est préoccupante. Après un face-à-face de deux mois entre navires philippins et chinois, c'est désormais du côté du Japon et des îles Senkaku/Diaoyu que se déploient les rivalités. / Asie, Chine, Corée du Sud, États-Unis (affaires extérieures), Japon, (...) / Asie, Chine, Corée du Sud, États-Unis (affaires extérieures), Japon, Philippines, Vietnam, Droit international, Mer, Nationalisme, Relations internationales, Stratégie, Pacifique, Diplomatie, Mer de Chine, Pêche - 2012/11

August 10 2013

Au Vietnam, un père et son fils ont passé quarante ans dans la jungle | Big Browser

Au #Vietnam, un père et son fils ont passé quarante ans dans la jungle | Big Browser
http://bigbrowser.blog.lemonde.fr/2013/08/09/mowgli-au-vietnam-un-pere-et-son-fils-ont-passe-quarante-ans

Pendant quarante ans, ils ont vécu dans la jungle vietnamienne, isolés de tous. Un homme aujourd’hui octogénaire et son fils viennent de quitter l’épaisse forêt dans laquelle il s’étaient réfugiés durant la #guerre du Vietnam, aux alentours de 1973, pour n’en sortir que quatre décennies plus tard.

Les deux hommes vivaient dans une cabane, perchée sur un arbre à six mètres d’altitude pour se protéger des bêtes sauvages. Grâce à la cueillette de maïs, de manioc, de baies, mais aussi à la chasse, Ho Van Thanh et son fils, Ho Van Lang, ont survécu à la jungle de la province de Quang Ngai, au centre du pays.

Vietnam pair coaxed out of jungle
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-23631738#TWEET850502

Quelques photos
Father, son live alone in jungle
http://vietnamnews.vn/society/243227/father-son-live-alone-in-jungle.html
http://vietnamnews.vn/thumbnail/450/7-8-anh-1-1375870086_500x0.jpg?url=Storage/Images/2013/8/8/7-8-anh-1-1375870086_500x0.jpg

August 09 2013

A Starving Blogger's Vietnam Crusade

As I write this story, it is the thirty-eighth day of Dieu Cay's hunger strike. Word that Vietnam's most famous blogger has been refusing food since June 20 seeps out from the prison where he's confined on a trumped up charge of propagandizing against the state. The 61 year-old dissident is protesting harsh treatment meted out to prisoners who refuse to confess their ‘crimes.’

I've never met Dieu Cay. When he was first jailed in 2008, I was still a reporter who'd grown up during Vietnam's boom years, and hardly paid attention to politics. Dieu Cay is old enough to remember the American War and the hard days that followed it.

Dieu Cay's blogging opened a window for me. It met readers’ demand for free access to true information, which is not the information provided and distorted by the state-owned press, in the interest of the regime and ruling Communist Party.

I'm not unique; a whole generation of bloggers has learned from Dieu Cay's example as a writer who spoke truth to power. What I know of him and recount below, I've learned from his friends.

His real name is Nguyen Van Hai, but for years he's been better known by his folksy pen name, Dieu Cay, or ‘peasant's pipe.’ He grew up in Haiphong, the port city 100 km to the east of my own home town, Hanoi, and served in the famous Gold Star Division of the People's Army. Almost certainly Dieu Cay was in the armed forces while the ‘American War’ still raged. He would have been 22 or 23 during the war-ending Ho Chi Minh campaign.

The young soldier found the south congenial, and when he was demobilized, he decided to stay there. In those days it was unusual for northerners to start up businesses, but Dieu Cay opened a coffee house in Ho Chi Minh City. On the side, he traded photographic equipment and rented out a few apartments. Before long, he was well off and well-known. Dieu Cay's friends describe him as easy-going, warm-hearted, charming and charismatic, equally at home in artistic and academic circles or just chatting with students or poor people.

Fast-forward now to 2005, the dawn of internet blogging in Vietnam. A new service, Yahoo 360°, was an overnight sensation. Unheralded, it destroyed the regime's monopoly control of public communications. For the first time, anyone with access to an ISP could post to a forum where they could trade ideas with unprecedented freedom. Blogs sprang up. By 2007, some of these were tackling political issues, with particular attention to escalating tension between Vietnam and China.

Dieu Cay emerged as the most popular of these political bloggers. He posted stories and photos that told about people's lives. With a laptop and a camera, Dieu Cay travelled about, talking with disadvantaged people. He interviewed farmers who'd lost their land, young women who sewed garments for export in sweatshops, construction workers who lived somehow on wages of less than 20 US cents per day. Investigating a spectacular worksite disaster, Dieu Cay uncovered evidence of corruption that may have led to the death of more than 50 workers.

He posted to his blog a heavily satirical account of his attempt to secure the eviction of a Communist Party member who'd appropriated one of his own flats. Dieu Cay's complaint was turned down. For his pains, a fine was levied for “inciting social disorder” and his writing about social justice and the corruption of the courts took a darker turn.

As the popularity of his blog surged, Dieu Cay attracted the attention of the state. Policemen were detailed to keep an eye on him. Undeterred, Dieu Cay with a few friends established the Free Journalists Network (FJVN) in September 2007. The organization was, of course, completely unauthorized and therefore technically illegal.

FJVN bloggers were on hand three months later when protests erupted against China's high-handed claims in the South China Sea on successive Sundays in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Their photos and reports were relayed abroad by Vietnam's resident foreign press. Dieu Cay stood out at the demonstrations, a magnet for young people who gathered around to hear his comments.

As participants in the second demonstration dispersed on the afternoon of December 16, the popular blogger was intercepted by police. “Hey,” a motorcyclist is said to have cried out, “Why are you arresting that man?”  “He's a thief,” one officer replied. “He's a drug dealer,” added another. For several hours, Dieu Cay was interrogated, not about drugs or theft but about the protests, and then released.

The next Sunday, the third week of unauthorized anti-China demonstrations, Dieu Cay was pre-emptively detained. This time he would be held for two days and thereafter would be under tight police surveillance. The state rolled out its arsenal of informal repression. Dieu Cay's businesses were sabotaged by “strangers.” Patrons headed for his café would be waved away from parking spaces. Potential tenants for his flats were scared off. An audit was launched; officials demanded that he produce contracts for rentals made ten years earlier. The blogger was knocked flat in a suspicious accident. He was regularly summoned to the police station for interrogation. On occasion he was grilled from 8am until late into the night about his activities and those of his FJVN friends.

Dieu Cay refused to appease his persecutors. Online, he continued to chronicle the Kafkaesque turn his life had taken. Then in March 2008, telling friends but not the police that he needed a rest, the popular blogger slipped out of Ho Chi Minh City. Dieu Cay's disappearance triggered a nationwide manhunt until, on April 19, he was (according to the police report) “urgently arrested” at an Internet café in Da Lat, a town in the mountains northeast of HCM City.

A few days later, his home was searched. The police sought evidence of “anti-state activities” but found none. Family and friends’ relief was brief, however. Dieu Cay was charged with tax fraud; while holding him incommunicado, the police had sprung a trap set months earlier, when they had ordered the local tax department not to accept overdue payments either from the blogger or his tenants.

Lawyers who volunteered to represent Dieu Cay were neither allowed to meet with him nor to know the date set for his trial. They were not allowed to introduce evidence that he had been set up. In September 2008, Vietnam's most popular political blogger was sent to prison by the HCM City People's Court.

The state wasn't finished with Dieu Cay, however. A day before he was to be released, having served his two and one-half year sentence for tax fraud, another a member of the FJVN, AnhBaSG, was taken into custody. Dieu Cay's release order was cancelled. He was held under a new charge: spreading propaganda against the state.

Not until almost two years later, September 24, 2012, was Dieu Cay tried along with AnhBaSG and a third member of the FJVN, Ta Phong Tan.

As the trial approached, Vietnam's blogosphere buzzed with indignation. Thousands signed an online ‘open letter’ to the head of state demanding “freedom for Dieu Cay.” International human rights organizations submitted their own pleas. Communist Party media hit back, attacking Dieu Cay ad hominem and other ‘anti-state bloggers’ in general. Dozens of bloggers converged on HCMC, some making the 36-hour trip by train from Hanoi.

The trial was in principle public, as Vietnamese law requires, but the room was packed with trolls. Supporters of the defendants had to run a police gauntlet. Friends, colleagues and followers who tried to attend the trial were intercepted and roughed up, their tee-shirts with the legend “Free Dieu Cay — Freedom for the Patriot” torn off. Those who protested were dragged off to a nearby police station for interrogation. The police jammed cell phone signals and harassed those gathering near the court, seizing their phones and cameras. Not even Dieu Cay's ex-wife and son were allowed into the courtroom.

A guilty verdict was only three hours in coming. AnhBaSG had apologized for blogging and promised to cut off all ties with anti-state elements. He was given a four-year sentence. Dieu Cay was put away for another twelve years. Ta Phong Tan was equally unrepentent; she drew a ten-year term.

Three months later, an appeals court confirmed the sentences given the three bloggers. Contrary to the regime's hopes, however, the verdict has not intimidated Vietnam's online dissidents. The dominant emotion expressed in online postings has been anger, for example, that the state would punish the free expression of opinion more harshly than murder.

The punishments meted out by the Hanoi regime and the arrests this spring of several more prominent bloggers have not stopped other dissidents from blogging. It's rather the opposite; for every blogger that's struck down, several others rise to take his place. state and party media say the political bloggers are the subversive vanguard of an international conspiracy against the Hanoi regime, a charge that rings increasingly hollow. The thousands of disenchanted young Vietnamese who post and comment regularly on dissident blogs and FaceBook sites believe that democratization is an inevitable process. All that is needed, they believe, is for enough citizens to see through the hollow pretensions of the post-revolutionary one-party state.

The fight will go on.

According to family members, imprisoned blogger Dieu Cay ended his hunger strike after 35 days after receiving assurances that Vietnam's Office of the Public Procurator would review his complaint that rights such as family visits and access to books and writing materials were being withheld from prisoners who refused to acknowledge their ‘crimes.’

The original version of this post appeared on Asia Sentinel.

VIDEOS: Vietnam’s Pride March 2013

Themed ‘Strive with Pride’, Vietnam held its second pride march in Hanoi which reflected the growing LGBT community in the country and its determination to push for more equality rights. The three-day event featured film screenings, the unveiling of scholarships, the launching of an employment equality guidebook, and a bicycle rally attended by more than three hundred people.

Viet Pride 2013 aims to fight discrimination and promote the rights of the LGBT:

The year 2012 marked the first Pride festival in Vietnam, a country in which homosexuality remains taboo. For the first time ever, Vietnam saw the rainbow flag freely waving at its capital’s streets, bringing tears to the eyes of many Vietnamese LGBTs. Like Pride elsewhere in the world, Viet Pride joins the global call to end prejudice, discrimination, shame, and invisibility on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Together with Pride, the LGBT movement in Vietnam has never been stronger.

However, equality and dignity for LGBT people has yet to become reality. Misunderstanding and social stigma is still widespread. Insinuation, ridicule, parents’ disapproval, and humiliation are experiences familiar to many LGBTs. In schools, families, offices, and factories, their dignity and security are still compromised. Many LGBTs, especially youth, live in fear of being disowned, despised, or treated differently.

This short video promotion provided a glimpse of the event:

This video showed the preparations during the opening ceremony:

The Vietnam pride march is unique for its bicycle rally as shown in this video report:

Pride March bicycle rally. Photo from Facebook of Tinh Yeu Trai Viet

Pride March bicycle rally. Photo from Facebook of Tinh Yeu Trai Viet

Photo from @viettan

Photo from @viettan

Trần Dũng Vũ (Soo) was happy with the turn out:

Also present at the festival was the “Equal offices” campaign to community and press – a campaign took place since April in which more than 105 foreign and domestic enterprises joined with the aim of positive change the way enterprises look at LGBTs.

Overall it was a great weekend, surrounded by community, friends and allys and I am very much looking forward to Viet Pride 2014. I hope you will come and check it out for yourself next year.

Pratibha Mehta of the Thanh Nien News wrote about the challenges faced by the LGBT in Vietnam:

While the law doesn’t criminalize homosexuality, LGBT people are not protected when their rights are violated.

Together we must challenge negative stereotypes, and dispel toxic myths. We have to help people understand why we must stand up against homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination.

Vietnam’s parliament body is ready to deliberate the proposal to legalize same sex marriage in the country. But Valentine Vu explains why Vietnam is not yet ready for the institutionalization of same sex marriage:

…majority of the population still holds prejudice against homosexuality being a disease, in fear of it being contagious, and afraid of losing face value if a friend/family member is gay.

The nation’s conservative base still recognizes homosexuality as a taboo act and not as a personal identity, more disparities between the people would happen resulting in further isolation of gay families if gay marriage is recognized without any foundation to properly support it.

August 08 2013

Explaining Chinese Tourists’ Assault on Wildlife

Sophie Lu from Tea Leaf Nation joined the discussion about the recent controversy over mainland Chinese Tourists’ destructive and illegal behaviors when diving in Paracel Islands.

August 07 2013

Hydroélectricité : Inquiétude des pécheurs du Mékong à cause de la construction de barrages au…

#Hydroélectricité : Inquiétude des #pécheurs du #Mékong à cause de la construction de barrages au #Laos.

Six pays, de la #Chine à sa source au #Vietnam à son embouchure, profitent des richesses du Mékong. Mais aujourd’hui, les projets hydroélectriques menacent faune et flore, et à terme, le mode de vie des habitants. La pêche, ressource essentielle, est la première menacée.

http://geopolis.francetvinfo.fr/le-mekong-menace-par-les-barrages-20489

August 03 2013

Will Vietnam’s New Internet Decree Ban Sharing of Online News?

Vietnam’s new Internet decree made public on July 31 instantly generated controversy after it purportedly contains several provisions that would ban the sharing of news stories in various social networks. But the government clarified that the decree is aimed only at protecting copyright. The regulation will take effect on September 1.

Decree 72/2013/ND-CP or “Management, Provision, Use of Internet Services and Information Content Online” was signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on July 15. It consists of 6 chapters and 46 articles covering these topics:

…internet services and resources, the management, provision, and usage of online information, the establishment of websites and social networks, information about telecommunication networks, online games, and online information safety and security.

An internet cafe in Vietnam. Image from Flickr page of mikecogh (CC License)

An internet cafe in Vietnam. Image from Flickr page of mikecogh (CC License)

But the controversial 20.4 clause of the decree bothered many people for banning ‘compiled information’:

…personal information webpage is a webpage created by individual on their own or via a social network. This page should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual only; it does not represent other individual or organization, and is not allowed to provide compiled information

What exactly is a ‘compiled information’? Tuổi Trẻ newspaper quoted Vietnam’s Broadcast and Electronic Information Department which interpreted it as a reminder for individuals not to “quote or share information from press agencies or websites of government agencies.”

Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Le Nam Thang said the new decree is to prevent misuse of the Internet to spread false information. It is also intended to help users “find correct and clean information on the internet.”

Personal webpage owners are only allowed to provide their own information, and are prohibited from taking news from media agencies and using that information as if it were their own

As expected, the law also enumerated some prohibited acts (Article 5):

…information that is against Vietnam, undermining national security, social order, and national unity […] or information distorting, slandering, and defaming the prestige of organisations, honour and dignity of individuals.

The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, which described the decree as “is fatally flawed and inconsistent with international human rights law and standards,” mentioned another potential dangerous provision in the decree:

Article 25 requires the filtering of any information on the Internet based on the interpretation that such information is amongst the “prohibited acts” outlined in Article 5. Foreign Internet Service Providers will have to provide information about their users when requested by investigative bodies.

Vietnam authorities immediately held a press forum to correct the ‘misunderstanding’ caused by the publication of the decree. They claimed that the decree would facilitate the development of Internet standards in the country:

The decree generates conditions for the development of internet information forms by licensing websites, social networks, and service supply registration

They also insisted that the decree has no provision prohibiting individuals to share information on social networks:

Decree 72 has no word or sentence prohibiting individuals from using social networks to share and collect information, so it has never been a threat to online reporters and bloggers

According to the decree, individuals have the right to collect and share information on social networks. It stipulates that individuals are allowed to cite information and attach a link to the source information so other people can refer to the original, full information. The decree aims to protect intellectual property rights and the copyright of press agencies. In fact, many press agencies are concerned about copyright and author rights.

Indeed, rising cases of copyright infringements has alarmed many companies and businesses. But Steven Millward of Tech in Asia thinks that Vietnam’s new Internet decree is not fixing the problem:

Vietnam seems to be striking at social media and individual sharing rather than fixing the cause of the problem: content piracy by lazy news sites. Surely media industry regulation would be a better move than this kind of ban.

Reporters Without Borders criticized the decree as “the harshest offensive against freedom of information”:

The announced decree is nothing less than the harshest offensive against freedom of information since Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a decree imposing tough sanctions on the media in 2011

If it takes effect, Vietnamese will be permanently deprived of the independent and outspoken information that normally circulates in blogs and forums.

The decree is both nonsensical and extremely dangerous. Its implementation will require massive and constant government surveillance of the entire Internet, an almost impossible challenge. But, at the same time, it will reinforce the legislative arsenal available to the authorities.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch is worried that the decree will be used for ‘selective persecution’:

This is a law that has been established for selective persecution. This is a law that will be used against certain people who have become a thorn in the side of the authorities in Hanoi

July 24 2013

Petition to Amend Vietnam Laws that Restrict Media Freedom

More than 60 Vietnamese bloggers signed a unity statement urging the Vietnam government to improve its human rights record and commitment as it vies for membership in the UN Human Rights Council:

The Vietnamese government also needs to review the human rights situation in their own country and the Vietnamese people also have a right to freedom of opinion and expression, including on these matters.

As advocates for freedom of expression in Vietnam and victims of human rights violations because of our activism, we view Vietnam's candidacy for the Human Rights Council as a platform for constructive human rights discussions in our country.

July 21 2013

How Vietnam Controls the Press

Asia Sentinel publishes an article written by Pham Doan Trang about the situation of journalists in Vietnam:

The press card system is a sophisticated method of controlling reporters. No card, no access. Without a press card, reporters can't hope to meet high-ranking officials, visit contacts at public offices or cover official conferences.

The State doesn't need to kill journalists to control the media because by and large, Vietnam's press card-carrying journalists are not allowed to do work that is worth being killed for

July 09 2013

Advocates Keep Spotlight on Le Quoc Quan

On July 9, 2013, the trial of Le Quoc Quan, one of Vietnam’s most active human rights defenders and an outspoken blogger, was supposed to take place in Hanoi. But Vietnamese authorities at the last minute decided to postpone his trial until further notice. This is the latest in a string of fair trial violations that have been committed towards the activist since his arrest last year.

Quan exposed human rights abuses commonly ignored by Vietnamese state media on his blog. Prior to being disbarred from practising law in 2007, he defended human rights cases in court. Because of his work, Quan has been repeatedly harassed by State authorities. He was detained for 100 days in 2007, kept under State surveillance and attacked by men near his home in August 2012, when he was beaten with a steel baton. His family members have been targeted with legal action as well.

Photo by ASM (thảo luận). (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Photo by ASM (thảo luận). (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Quan was arrested on 27 December 2012 and charged with “tax evasion”, a fabricated charge sometimes used by the Vietnamese government to clamp down on those who oppose them. After his arrest, now more than five months ago, Quan has largely been held incommunicado. He has been denied access to his family and was allowed to see his lawyer only once, briefly, during a police interrogation. During the first 15 days of his detention, Quan was on hunger strike. Quan’s detention was extended without the notification required under Vietnamese law when the initial four-month period allowed for investigation had concluded. While Quan has been allowed the occasional visit from his lawyer since last month, he is still denied visits from family members.

The prosecution of Quan fits into a wider pattern of oppression of free speech in Vietnam. The World Press Freedom Index 2013 ranks Vietnam among the ten worst countries when it comes to respect for press freedom: At least 31 citizen journalists and 2 journalists working for traditional media organizations are currently jailed in the country. Among those imprisoned are bloggers Nguyen Van Hai (popularly known by his pen name “Dieu Cay”), Tạ Phong Tan and Phan Thanh Hai, whose appeal against their conviction for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” was rejected in December last year. Eight of the fourteen young bloggers convicted in January for “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” appealed their sentences – their convictions were upheld on 23 May, though Paulus Le Son’s sentence was reduced from 13 to four years in prison.

If Quan’s eventual trial follows the pattern of prosecutions brought against these bloggers and other dissenting voices over the past few years, will last for no more than a day. The court will need very little time to come to its “decision”, on which it is likely to have received instructions beforehand. No independent trial observers will be allowed in the court room and those wanting to show support outside the court house will be kept at a safe distance by the police. Family members and human rights activists will be arrested before they can come near the location of the trial.

Keeping a spotlight on cases such as Quan’s is crucial. In March this year, the Media Legal Defence Initiative led a coalition of human rights NGOs in an appeal to various UN watchdogs to secure the release of Le Quoc Quan. Similar action has been taken by Stanford Law School’s Allan Weiner on behalf of the fourteen bloggers. Formal action is still pending, but in the meantime it is important that a watchful eye is kept on developments on these legal processes as they unfold. Along with civil society, Vietnam's donors should continue holding the government to account for these prosecutions, which are in flagrant violation of Vietnam's obligations under international human rights law.

 

Nani Jansen is Senior Legal Counsel at the Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI). 

June 19 2013

Vietnam: Bloggers Arrested, Accused of Spreading “Anti-State” Propaganda

Truong Duy Nhat, Pham Viet Dao and Dinh Nhat Uy are three prominent bloggers who have been arrested in Vietnam in less than a month's time. All are accused of spreading anti-state propaganda.

Truong Duy Nhat was arrested May 26 in Danang. Pham Viet Dao was detained in Hanoi on June 13. On June 15, Dinh Nhat Uy was taken into police custody in Long An province.

Vietnam has imprisoned 46 bloggers and democracy activists in 2013. The high number of arrests of hardline government critics or individuals that the government sees as “enemies of the state” could be related to the recently concluded confidence vote in the National Assembly.

The Prime Minister survived the country’s first-ever confidence vote but 30 percent of the National Assembly members voted against him.

Phạm Viết Đào. Image from dinhti.blogspot.com

Phạm Viết Đào. Image from dinhti.blogspot.com

Human rights groups and press freedom advocates immediately denounced the arrests. Many suspect that authorities are working to silence activists and dissident journalists who have been actively exposing corruption scandals involving top government officials.

Reporters without Borders warned that Vietnam could expect a global backlash if persecution of news providers is to continue:

We warn the authorities against any increase in the persecution of news providers. After the European Parliament’s recent resolutions condemning Vietnam’s arrests of bloggers and the international community’s calls for more freedom of information and expression in Vietnam, it should be clear that maintaining the policy of terror against bloggers and cyber-dissidents will only sideline the country internationally, including within intergovernmental mechanisms.

The abuses suffered by bloggers highlight the need to review some of the laws which the government of Vietnam has been using to silence its critics.

Article 88 of the Criminal Code which bans anti-state propaganda is often used to detain individuals who oppose the government. Article 258 of the Criminal Code punishes misuse of “democratic freedoms to attack state interests and the legitimate rights and interests of collectives and individuals” and carries a sentence of seven years in prison. The Prime Minister also issued a directive last year that ordered a crackdown on “reactionary” blogs.

Vague provisions in the law have allowed authorities to make some arbitrary arrests. For example, Dinh Nhat Uy is accused of posting “erroneous and slanderous” information about the communist government. Further, he allegedly posted photos and articles on his blog that “distort the truth and defame state organizations.”

A month ago, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh—who blogs as Me Nam (Mother Mushroom)–was briefly detained in Khanh Hoa province for handing out copies of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was reportedly arrested because she did not have a proper permit for distributing such materials.

Truong Duy Nhat, who blogs at “Another Viewpoint”, asserted that he is neither a criminal nor a reactionary:

I am neither a criminal nor a reactionary. There is nothing propagandistic or reactionary about the articles I post on ‘Another point of view.’ The police investigations, summonses and interrogations should be targeting reactionaries, anti-patriots and the interest groups gathering in banks, these insects who devour the people.

Regardless of their political opinions or critiques of the government, bloggers’ universal human right to freedom of expression should be upheld in Vietnam. Global Voices Advocacy will continue to follow these stories as they unfold.

June 13 2013

Dog Thefts in Vietnam

Mike Tatarski clarifies that most Vietnamese do not eat dog. However, there is demand for dog meat which gives rise to dog thefts:

The main reason this trade continues is money. Dog meat is expensive, costing $5-$10 per kilogram. This provides incentive for something that has been big news recently: dog theft.

June 08 2013

VIDEO: How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Could Hurt Internet Users

A new animated video by digital rights group Electric Frontier Foundation warns that the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement being negotiated by the United States and ten governments from around the Pacific region, could have alarming consequences for Internet users.

The treaty's negotiations, which include input from corporations, are being kept under wraps, but a leaked draft [PDF] of the treaty from February 2011 and other leaked notes have given many advocates cause for concern over copyright enforcement provisions in the agreement's chapter on intellectual property.

According to the group, the treaty could make the Internet an intimidating place for the people and companies that use it. The agreement could encourage Internet service providers to police the activity of Internet users and block legitimate content with only a private notice from the supposed copyright holder in order to protect themselves from liability.

It could also make it illegal for users to work around technical measures put in place to prevent copyright infringement, such as unlocking a mobile phone in order to connect it to another carrier or modifying the format of an e-book to make it more accessible to those with disabilities.

The video, called “TPP: The Biggest Threat to the Internet You've Probably Never Heard Of”, is available on YouTube and can be found here:

June 05 2013

If Your Blog Gets Hacked, Can WordPress Help?

Presidential Palace, Hanoi. Photo by Paul Morse, released to public domain.

Presidential Palace, Hanoi. Photo by Paul Morse, released to public domain.

In March, Vietnamese political news blog Anh Ba Sam underwent a series of attacks that left its content compromised and its owners unable to access the blog’s back end. Attackers took over the site, replacing its articles with their own content and changing passwords for the site’s administrative sections.

When Anh Ba Sam’s owners contacted WordPress, the blog’s hosting service, in an effort to reclaim access to their site, the company asked the owners to verify their identities. But this wasn’t easy — the attackers changed security information on the site, leaving the owners temporarily unable to prove their claim. Although the has since been resolved, it raises critical questions about the role of blog hosting platforms and their responsibilities to provide adequate security measures for their clients.

‘The Gossiper’

Anh Ba Sam (ABS) has established a unique position in recent years as a consolidator of reportage on events and trends in Vietnam. The site features articles re-posted from the foreign press and original reporting from the ABS community, many members of which identify themselves as dissidents. ABS publishes news updates four times daily, and regularly posts political, economic and social analyses contributed by respected intellectuals and experts. Before the attack, the site was garnering roughly 100,000 hits daily.

In Vietnamese, “Anh” is a personal pronoun, use for an older, male person. “Ba Sàm” means “the Gossiper”. One site administrator explained to Global Voices Advocacy that readers developed a saying after the blog was founded: “Ba sàm thông tin chính thống, chính thống nói chuyện ba sàm,” or, “The Gossiper communicates official news, while the official media merely gossips.”

The attack

ABS was a high-value target for Vietnam's internal security agencies, though there is no hard evidence that government actors were involved in the attack. On March 8, hackers took control of ABS, locking out its true owners and deleting all of its content. On March 13, hackers (presumably the same person or group as before) posted on the site a lewd and defamatory ‘exposé’ of ABS managing editor Dinh Ngoc Thu, derived from materials she suspects hackers looted from her own computer.

Thu sent urgent requests to WordPress customer assistance staff, asking that control of the site be restored to her and her colleagues. Their response was that Thu must first prove that she was the true owner of the site, but this was impossible — all identifying data, correspondence with WordPress, billing records, and other evidence of ownership had been stored on subdirectories of the site and was either deleted or no longer accessible by the ABS team.

Could WordPress help?

Contacts of Thu’s brought the issue to the attention of the general counsel of Automattic, WordPress.com's parent company. WordPress customer assistance staff then became more cooperative and control of the blog was restored to the ABS staff.  Yet it required substantial effort to persuade WordPress to remove various sub-blogs and other booby traps hidden within the ABS site by the hackers. Had the ABS team not been able to connect with influential staff at WordPress and Automattic, they may have spent far longer working to regain access to their site.

Not long after this, WordPress.com deployed a two-step authentication procedure for all its clients’ use. There’s no way to know for sure, but some believe that the ABS incident catalyzed this change.

ABS has been up and running again, with tighter security and a new URL, since late March 2013.  Average daily hits have climbed back to 73,000. ABS staff are hoping to soon move the blog to a new and inherently more secure server soon.

Increasing security for vulnerable blogs

ABS administrators and Global Voices Advocacy urge WordPress to adopt a policy of proactive, preemptive assistance for blog administrators facing challenges similar to those of ABS. We believe that WordPress should take responsibility to the fullest extent possible for ensuring that their clients’ sites aren’t hacked (for example by strongly recommending 2-factor authentication and being more aggressive about helping to ensure that all WP scripts and plugins being used by blog administrator are up-to-date).

The company could could consider developing a mechanism that enables their clients to recover control of a hacked account. As was the case with ABS, suppose a person claiming to be the site owner urgently requests help regaining control of the site. WordPress staff very possibly won’t be fluent in the language used on the site. How can they tell who is the bona fide owner? A recent, sudden and radical change in the pattern of administrative access to the site should be prima facie evidence that a highjacking has taken place.  At that point, WordPress could deny administrative access to the site by any party pending a sorting out of claims.

WordPress should take pride in its unique role as an enabler of free political speech around the world. To this end, we believe the company should provide interactive security counseling to the many alternative and dissenting bloggers it hosts.  Such a commitment would strengthen the public image of both WordPress and Automattic, and provide an invaluable service to its community.

May 29 2013

Little PSY and his Vietnamese Heritage

After learning that Korean child actor Hwang Min-woo or Little PSY of Gangnam Style fame has been receiving hate messages for being half-Vietnamese, James Bao wrote him a letter urging him to be proud of his Vietnamese roots:

Wear your heritage proud. We hope you’ll one day get a chance to explore your Vietnamese roots. Until then, find your Vietnamese mother and give her a hug.

Vietnam and Same Sex Marriage

Writing for Tuoitrenews, Valentine Vu explains why Vietnam is not yet ready for the legalization of same sex marriage:

…majority of the population still holds prejudice against homosexuality being a disease, in fear of it being contagious, and afraid of losing face value if a friend/family member is gay

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