Dragon Bridge over the River Hàn in Da Nang, Vietnam.
Well-known Vietnamese blogger, Nguyen Huu Vinh, and his assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, were found guilty yesterday and imprisoned for five and three years, respectively. There were found guilty of abusing their democratic freedoms. What freedoms? Let’s not kid ourselves.
In 1975 the Communist regime of Vietnam took over the whole country. By 1985, Communism had not worked very well for the country’s economy so they introduced a socialist-oriented market economy. Today, Vietnam has a thriving economy with tons of tourism but there is a dark side. I visited Vietnam in 2013 and witnessed this firsthand. The reality is that although Vietnam has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, it is still a single political party country that does not tolerate dissent. There is no democracy in Vietnam and citizens have limited rights. A citizen cannot speak against the government and the government controls the media. The Vietnamese government arbitrarily arrests activists, lawyers, and bloggers if they feel they are criticizing the government.
Vinh’s blog, “Ba Sam” was a political and social blog founded in 2007. The blog aggregated news stories from major state-run newspapers and also published individual blog posts written by activists. His blog reached up to 3.7 million page views. What also made Vinh a unique blogger was that he had once been a policeman and had had ties to the communist party elite. His father had been a government minister and his grandfather a former ambassador to the Soviet Union.
Vietnam stands the chance of becoming the biggest winner in the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement making them even more important players in the global economy. But I have always felt that a country that does not treat its citizens well, can only go so far, i.e. like China. Ironically, in 1945 Ho Shi Minh, the leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north communist Vietnam) was inspired by the United States Declaration of Independence and the words of Thomas Jefferson that say, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. The constitution of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (north communist Vietnam) adopted these lines in their 1946 constitution and provided for freedom of speech, press, and assembly. Of course these rights were never really instituted. By 1959 the North Vietnamese constitution took a more communist tone. The constitution was revised yet again in 1980 to better serve politically unified Vietnam. In its article 67, the Vietnamese constitution guarantees the citizens’ rights to freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and association, and the freedom to demonstrate. But here’s the kicker, the government says, “ no one may misuse democratic freedoms to violate the interests of the state and the people”. Vinh and Thuy were found guilty of violating their so-called democratic freedoms.
At moments like this I truly appreciate our founding father’s gift of the First Amendment. I share it below with you for your reading pleasure and to remind ourselves that we are very fortunate to live in a country with real democratic freedoms.
Today my thoughts are with the people of Vietnam. I wish that someday they enjoy true democratic freedoms. Today, my thoughts are also with blogger activists around the world who promote human rights and peace.
Faces of Vietnam
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
The First Amendment guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition. It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices. It guarantees freedom of expression by prohibiting Congress from restricting the press or the rights of individuals to speak freely. It also guarantees the right of citizens to assemble peaceably and to petition their government.
One of our wonderful tour guides. He views life as a glass half full. He is appreciative of the few democratic freedoms he does have and is very optimistic for the future of Vietnam.