Prosecutors in Vietnam have charged three people with conducting propaganda against the state for using the Internet to protest government policies and promote political discussion. The United States is concerned about Vietnam’s decision to charge them, particularly as these prosecutions contribute to a disturbing trend of a crackdown on Internet-based speech there.
Vietnamese authorities have accused Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Than Hai and Ta Phong Tan of posting 421 articles on their Web logs, or blogs, that “distorted and opposed the State.” They are currently awaiting trial and if convicted they face up to 20 years in prison, under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code.
The three bloggers also may have fallen afoul of authorities for belonging to an independent media group, the “Free Journalists Club.” Media and the press in general are heavily controlled in Vietnam, and social media such as Facebook that promote independent dialogue are periodically restricted.
The United States and Vietnam have cooperated in many areas to expand the scope and depth of their relations, but concerns remain that progress on human rights issues continues to lag in the Southeast Asian nation. Vaguely worded laws enacted to protect state security have been used to intimidate and in many cases imprison peaceful political and religious activists. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other top U.S. officials have made it clear that significant progress in ending these practices is needed to build closer relations between our two countries.
We urge Vietnam to respect freedom of expression for all Vietnamese, including the freedom to express political opinions and to criticize government policies.