Test for Vietnam government: free-speech bloggers


HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Last fall, when police clashed with Catholic protesters over confiscated church land, the Vietnamese public didn’t need to rely on the sanitized accounts in the government-controlled media. They could read all about it on the blogs.

The photos and translated Western news reports about last September’s outlawed prayer vigils were posted in a Vietnamese blogosphere where anything goes — from drugs, sex, marriage and AIDS to blunt criticism of the communist government.

Until now the government has generally taken a hands-off attitude. But officials at the Ministry of Information and Communications appear to be losing patience. They say they are preparing new rules that would restrict blogs to personal matters — meaning no politics.

Blogs and unlicensed news Web sites have taken on added weight since a crackdown on journalists cast a chill over Vietnam’s mainstream media.

In June, two journalists who had aggressively covered a major government corruption case were arrested and one of them was sentenced to two years in prison. Four others had their press cards revoked after running front-page stories decrying the journalists’ arrests.

The bloggers were quick to react.

“We fought two wars to free ourselves from the shackles of imperialism and colonialism, all in the hope of having basic human rights,” wrote Vo Thi Hao, a novelist and painter, on her self-titled blog. “Even the French colonial government allowed private media, opposition parties and free expression.”

Such sentiments would never appear in Vietnam’s state-controlled media, which are dominated by admiring stories of the country’s leaders or dull accounts of the bureaucracy at work.

In the reporting of the vigils organized by the Catholic Church to demand the return of lands seized decades ago, the state media portrayed the protesters as lawless, while the bloggers portrayed them as principled and brave.

“I get information from the blogs that I could never find in the state media,” said Nguyen Thu Thuy, a blogger who delves into her religious beliefs and family life. “Everybody has the right to free expression,” she said in an interview.

Roughly 20 million of Vietnam’s 86 million citizens use the Internet, according to the latest government figures. While high-profile bloggers are concentrated in the big cities, cyber-cafes can be found in all but the most remote corners of the country.

Any public criticism of the government would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but today’s bloggers are sometimes scathing.

A popular Ho Chi Minh City blogger known as Osin recently chided Vietnam’s top-ranking officials for chartering airplanes to fly to international meetings.

“A head of state should not use a chartered plane to show off,” he wrote, pointing out that when the prime minister of Thailand visited Vietnam, he came on a commercial flight. “A politician’s reputation does not depend on whether he can fly around in a big plane. It depends on whether he values the taxpayers’ money.”

Information and Communications Ministry officials did not reply to an interview request from The Associated Press.

Vietnam has yet to go as far as neighboring China does in suppressing undesirable Internet content. It blocks some Web sites run by overseas Vietnamese that the government views as a political threat. But it has not hindered access to Yahoo 360, a blogging platform that is extremely popular with young Vietnamese.

“It’s interesting that they’ve chosen not to block it,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a professor at the University of Hong Kong who has written about China’s Internet policies. “One assumes it’s because they don’t want to deal with the blowback it would cause.”

Still, the government occasionally tries to make an example of those who go too far.

A blogger known as Dieu Cay was charged with tax evasion after encouraging people to protest at the Olympic torch ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City shortly before the Beijing games last summer. He criticized China’s policies in Tibet and the Spratly Islands, an archipelago in the South China Sea that is claimed by both China and Vietnam.

Vietnam’s government is particularly sensitive to anything it regards as fomenting public protests, and also is wary of upsetting its giant northern neighbor.

Vietnamese bloggers often write confessional postings that have nothing to do with politics.

One named “Sun’s Secret” recently wrote about her upcoming marriage and her fears that she was rushing into it too quickly. “Sometimes I feel like I just want to run away from this relationship,” she confided.

Sun’s Secret also confessed to feeling remorseful because she introduced two friends who slept together and later found out that they were HIV positive.

“Is it my fault?” she asked. “I introduced them.”

Some bloggers say the government has failed to keep up with the spread of blogging, and think it’s too late to roll it back.

“The government doesn’t have the technology or the manpower to control all the bloggers,” read a posting on TTX Vang Anh, a popular self-styled citizens’ “news agency.”

The Associated Press: Test for Vietnam government: free-speech bloggers

AFP: Vietnam court upholds blogger’s jail term

The Ho Chi Minh City Peoples Court

The Ho Chi Minh City People's Court

HANOI (AFP) — An appeals court in communist Vietnam on Thursday upheld a blogger’s two-and-a-half-year jail sentence for tax fraud in a case media watchdog groups have said was politically motivated.

The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court confirmed the September verdict and sentencing of Nguyen Hoang Hai, who uses the weblog name Dieu Cay and is a member of the online Free Vietnamese Journalists Club.

“After several hours of debate with his lawyers, the court upheld the first instance sentence of two-and-a-half years imprisonment for Nguyen Hoang Hai on the charge of tax fraud,” court official Phan Tanh told AFP.

Hai — who has taken part in anti-Beijing demonstrations about a sensitive sea territory dispute with China — was arrested in April, days before the Olympic torch passed through the southern city, formerly called Saigon.

“The authorities are trying to silence this blogger,” said media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a statement before the hearing.

“Dieu Cay should be freed at once,” said the Paris-based group which has called the weblog writer a “cyber-dissident.”

“We call on the foreign embassies in Vietnam to defend free expression by urging the Vietnamese government to release him.”

RSF said that, according to Hai’s son, he had been under close police surveillance since joining street demonstrations early this year against China’s claim over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

The protests backed the government stance that the islands belong to Vietnam, but they also embarrassed the leadership which received a stern rebuke from China for allowing the rare street protests to take place.

“The police are harassing his family, his property has been seized and close colleagues have been threatened and arrested,” the RSF said.

Vietnam will issue new rules against “incorrect information” on blogs this month, state media reports said this week, quoting government officials.

The regulations aim “to create a legal base for bloggers and related agencies to tackle violations in the area of blogging,” said Information and Communication Deputy Minister Do Quy Doan, according to the Thanh Nien daily.

The ministry “will contact Google and Yahoo! for cooperation in creating the best and the healthiest environment for bloggers,” he reportedly added.

AFP: Vietnam court upholds blogger’s jail term

No sign that jailed blogger Dieu Cay will get fair appeal

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders calls on the Vietnamese authorities to stop manipulating the legal proceedings against blogger and human rights activist Nguyen Hoang Hai, better known by the blogging name of Dieu Cay, who is serving a 30-month jail sentence on a charge of tax fraud.

Foreign journalists will not be admitted into the Ho Chi Minh City courtroom when his appeal against his 10 September conviction is heard tomorrow.

“The refusal to let foreign journalists cover the hearing, which is supposed to be public, is indicative of the way these proceedings have been conducted,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The appeal court has also violated the right of defence by giving his lawyers less than two weeks to prepare for the appeal hearing. All this shows that the authorities are trying to hide the fact that Dieu Cay was convicted on a trumped-up charge.”

Dieu Cay’s lawyers and family, including his ex-wife, were notified on 25 November that the appeal was to be heard in nine days’ time. This violated article 242 of the Vietnamese code of criminal procedure, which says the defence must be notified 15 days in advance to allow it time to prepare. The code has been in force since July 2004.

His lawyers requested a postponement of the hearing but the appeal court’s judge refused and told one of the lawyers that “even if the defendants and their lawyers are not in the room, we will examine the case.”

Dieu Cay’s tax fraud conviction was based on the allegation that he had not paid any taxes for the past ten years on premises he owned, when in fact he rents the premises from the Hanoi Eyewear Co. under an arrangement allowed by the law in which the company assumes responsibility for paying the taxes.

“The authorities are trying to silence this blogger,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Dieu Cay should be freed at once and the charges against him and his ex-wife should be dropped. We call on the foreign embassies in Vietnam to defend free expression by urging the Vietnamese government to release him.”

Dieu Cay was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on 19 April and was charged with tax fraud five days later. According to his son, he had been under close police surveillance since taking part in demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of the year in protest against China=s claim to sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands. The police are harassing his family, his property has been seized and close colleagues have been threatened and arrested.

A founder member of a group of bloggers known as the Free Vietnamese Journalists Club, Dieu Cay is one of the country’s best known activists. The US-based Vietnam Human Rights Network (VNHRN) awarded him a prize on 29 October for his commitment to free expression.

Vietnam is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet” and its Internet censorship practices are almost as thorough as those of its Chinese big sister. Deputy information minister Do Quy Doan told the local press on 2 December he intended to “issue guidelines on the distribution of information in blogs.”

The Thanh Nien daily newspaper meanwhile reported that the information ministry planned to “contact Google and Yahoo! about cooperating in the creation of the healthiest and best possible environment for bloggers.”


Hong Kong has best judicial system in Asia: business survey

SINGAPORE (AFP) — Regional financial centres Hong Kong and Singapore have the best judicial systems in Asia, with Indonesia and Vietnam the worst, a survey of expatriate business executives showed.

The judiciary “is one of Indonesia’s weakest and most controversial institutions, and many consider the poor enforcement of laws to be the country’s number one problem,” said the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC).

Some court rulings in Indonesia have been “so controversial that they have seriously hurt confidence of foreign companies,” said PERC, without giving specific examples.

In the PERC survey, Hong Kong’s judicial system topped the vote with a score of 1.45 on a scale that has zero representing the best performance and 10 the worst.

Regional rival Singapore was in second place with a grade of 1.92, followed by Japan (3.50), South Korea (4.62), Taiwan (4.93) and the Philippines (6.10).

Malaysia was in seventh place with a grade of 6.47, followed by India (6.50), Thailand (7.00) and China (7.25). Indonesia got the worst score of 8.26 after Vietnam’s 8.10.

The Hong Kong-based consultancy said 1,537 corporate executives working in Asia were asked to rate the judicial systems in the countries where they reside, using such variables as the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) and corruption.

Transparency, enforcement of laws, freedom from political interference and the experience and educational standards of lawyers and judges were also considered.

“Year after year our perception surveys show a close correlation between how expatriates rate judicial systems and how they rate the openness of a particular economy,” PERC said.

“Better judicial systems are associated with better IPR protection, lower corruption and wealthier economies.”

Arrest of blogger Dieu Cay on 19 April 2008

Arrest of blogger Dieu Cay on 19 April 2008

The less favourable perception of China’s and Vietnam’s judicial systems are rooted in political interference, PERC said, adding that the Communist Party “is above the law in both countries.”

Despite India and the Philippines being democracies, expatriates did not look favourably on their judicial systems because of corruption, PERC added.

Malaysia’s judicial system has suffered a “serious reputation damage due to political interference,” while expatriates in Thailand “have serious doubts” that moves to expand the judiciary’s powers will be good for the country, it said.

PERC noted the survey involved expatriate business executives, not political activists, so criteria like contracts and IPR protection were given more weight.

“This bias is possibly most obvious in Singapore,” it said, noting that the city-state’s top rating in the survey is not shared by political activists, who have criticised the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) for using the judiciary to silence critics.

“In Singapore, the general perception of expatriates is that local politics has not compromised the way commercial and criminal law is conducted,” PERC said.

AFP: Hong Kong has best judicial system in Asia: business survey

Wave of Repression Blankets Vietnam

Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party)
With members inside Vietnam and around the world,
Viet Tan aims to establish democracy and reform the country through peaceful means.

September 10, 2008
Contact: Duy Hoang +1 (202) 470-1678

Communist authorities in Vietnam have arrested several democracy activists in the middle of the night and placed many others under house arrest. These actions come amidst the sentencing of a prominent blogger and appearances of large banners in urban areas calling for multi-party democracy and leaflets protesting the government’s territorial concessions to China.

· On September 10, shortly before midnight, about a dozen security police raided the home of Pham Van Troi in Hanoi. Troi, a member of the Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam, was arrested according to his wife. At the same time, police in Hai Phong surrounded the home of writer Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a leader of the Bloc 8406, and seized him. A third democracy activist, Pham Thanh Nghien, reported that her home in Hai Phong was surrounded overnight by police. Other confirmed arrests last evening include university student Ngo Quynh and poet Tran Duc Thach.

· Earlier in the day, in a closed-door trial in Saigon, authorities sentenced blogger Nguyen Van Hai (known by his pen name Dieu Cay) to 30 months in prison for tax evasion. However, everything about the case—how Dieu Cay was secretly arrested, his five months in prison without family visit, the government’s refusal to allow attorneys of his choice to represent him—indicates that the case was politically motivated. Dieu Cay wrote about Hanoi’s territorial concessions to Beijing. He had called for demonstrations against the Olympic torch relay in Saigon on April 29 when he was arrested.

· Friends of Dieu Cay were summoned to police stations this week or isolated at home to prevent them from trying to attend the trial. Currently, bloggers Uyen Vu, Ta Phong Tan, Trang Dem, Thien Sau and Song Chi and attorneys Le Tran Luat and Phan Thanh Hai remain under house arrest or tight police surveillance.

Hanoi authorities appear nervous before the 50th anniversary of a diplomatic note by former North Vietnamese prime minister Pham Van Dong recognizing China’s claims over islands historically belonging to Vietnam. Fifty Vietnamese citizens have initiated a petition campaign calling on the Hanoi government to nullify the September 14, 1958 diplomatic note. Recently, leaflets have been distributed at universities calling for protests outside the Chinese embassy on September 14th.

The government is also contending with the peaceful protest by thousands of Catholics for the return of confiscated church property. The protest of Thai Ha parish is entering its third week. Even though authorities have detained some protestors and used tear gas against crowds, the prayer vigils continue.

As American Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte visits Vietnam this week, the Hanoi leadership is trying to project a business as usual appearance while its security police is sweeping up dissidents throughout the country.


Vietnam jails political blogger for tax evasion

Hanoi – A political internet blogger who reported on protests during the Olympic torch relay through Vietnam in April was sentenced Wednesday to two and a half years in prison on charges of tax evasion. Nguyen Van Hai, 55, widely known by his pen name Dieu Cay, was convicted of having failed to pay 10 years’ worth of value-added tax on part of his house that he rented to an optical shop.

Hai belongs to a bloggers’ group called the League of Independent Journalists, who reported and participated in several small anti-Chinese protests during the torch relay through Ho Chi Minh City.

Hai’s colleagues denounced the sentence as punishment for his reporting on protests against Chinese claims to the Spratly and Paracel Islands, two chains of islets in the South China Sea disputed by both countries.

The government shut down the protests, which were organized by activist groups but reflect popular antipathy towards China.

“I don’t think the charges of tax fraud are real,” a 48-year-old blogger who goes by the pen name Uyen Vu told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. “He was arrested for expressing his opinions about China’s territorial land-grab policy in the Spratly and Paracel Islands.”

“Hai was arrested because he is advocating a free media,” said another blogger, 40, who calls herself Ta Van Than.

Le Cong Dinh, 40, one of four lawyers representing Hai, said the rental contract had stipulated that the tax should be paid by the tenant. But the court ruled that when the tenant failed to pay, the owner became responsible. Hai had thus evaded 450 million dong (27,000 dollars) in taxes over 10 years.

According to Vietnam’s penal code, evading taxes of between 1 and 500 million dong is subject to a fine of one to five times the amount evaded, or a prison term of six months to three years.

The press law in communist-ruled Vietna

Vietnam jails political blogger for tax evasion : Asia World

Blogger gets two and a half years in prison after “unfair and unfounded” conviction on tax fraud charge

Blogger Dieu Cay

Blogger Dieu Cay

Blogger Nguyen Hoang Hai, better known by the pseudonym of Dieu Cay, was sentenced today by a Ho Chi Minh City court to two and a half years in prison for “tax fraud.” Foreign journalists were not allowed into the courtroom during the trial.

“This sentence shows how dependent Vietnam’s judicial system is on the government,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The tax fraud charge was trumped up in order to silence Dieu Cay, who was regarded as overly critical of the government. We condemn this conviction as completely unfair and unfounded.”

One of the blogger’s lawyers told Reporters Without Borders he regarded the sentence as very severe, especially as he demonstrated during the trial that the police had failed to respect standard procedure.

“Dieu Cay was arrested before the authorities had even established the monetary value of the alleged fraud,” he said. “In this kind of case, the person accused of fraud is first asked to pay the fine. He is only arrested if he cannot produce the money. But Dieu Cay was never asked to pay. I questioned the role of the police in court. The judge reprimanded me for criticising the authorities. This conviction is disgrace.”

He added that the trial was a “grotesque performance” because the sentence was decided in advance and the court spectators consisted of “extras” who were installed there well before the start of the trial. He said he would appeal within 10 days.

No explanation was given when Dieu Cay was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on 19 April. The tax fraud charge was brought five days later. According to his son, Dieu Cay had been under close police surveillance since taking part in demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of this year in protest against China’s claim to sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

The police are harassing his family and his property has been seized.

Reporters sans frontières – Vietnam