In a world where the output of technology has already surpassed a breakneck pace, people are beginning to master the use of more and more technology, even if such use is not at the pace of development. While the U.S. has been known to set the precedent for technology rollouts, and the freedom for its people to use the technology, other areas of the world are beginning to catch up. One country that has been facing tumultuous circumstances in regards to the technology of the Internet is Vietnam, where its authorities are continuing to stubbornly arrest activists and bloggers that are speaking out peacefully.
Vietnamese governmental literature upholds Article 258, which essentially has been used to charge tranquil bloggers by having “abused democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.” In other words, this meant that while the Internet activists allegedly had the freedom to use their voice for commentary on the Internet, such freedom was not permitted for critique of the government, and authorities have promptly taken action to arrest them.
The two most recently prominent figures of this activism are Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. The arrests of Vinh and Thuy have by no means been the next event in a string of incidents that were far and few between. Throughout all of 2014 so far, at least six other individuals have been arrested, which results in nearly two activist arrests per month. Even though three other Vietnamese dissidents were released in April 2014, which was earlier than expected, the country’s governmental aggression does not appear to be lessening any time soon.
Ba Sam is the blog in question, which has been running since 2007 and was founded by Ngyuen Huu Vinh. The blog’s motto is “pha vong no le,” which means “breaking the ring of slavery” in English. Vinh built up the website towards the effort of bringing its readers a variety of content from a variety of sources. However, the blog has notably focused on information about politics, economics, world events and Vietnam state-controlled media. There is less information available about Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, but sources are indicating that she likely worked with Vinh on Ba Sam, particularly in its earlier stages.
As the blog was building momentum, eventually authorities within Vietnam caught wind and decided to take action, before escalating to the continual arrest of these Internet activists. Ba Sam nearly exploded as soon as it went public, and in less than five years, was already affected by attacks from hackers and efforts to shut down the site from unknown sources. During this time, Ba Sam was also subject to verbal degradation from the Vietnam government itself, and they requested that the site be modified to remove certain news pieces.
At the five-year mark in 2012, Nguyen Huu Vinh stepped down from working on the site directly and handed off most of the responsibilities to Ngoc Thu, the site’s editor at the time. Just last month, the site was subject to such a level of attacks that it could not publish news as usual, but re-surfaced on Monday in protest against the arrests of Vinh and Thuy.
For a blog that was being read daily by tens of thousands of Vietnamese readers, and many more throughout the world, the cry against such useless and passive-aggressive behavior by the Vietnamese government was not small. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an organization out of New York, has been particularly vocal from the grounds of the U.S. in speaking out against the frustrating actions taken against innocent bloggers.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of HRW, summed up his thoughts by saying that such efforts by the Vietnamese government will “only make people more determined in demanding their rights to freedom.” The freedom to find and read about information on a global scale, being able to absorb that information and place one’s own thoughts and ideas online, and being able to turn thoughts into action ought to be the right of every individual across the globe, no matter their citizenry or nationality. In terms of Vietnam not budging much as they continue to arrest Internet activists, one can only hope that the choices of the authorities will lead to new plans from the people.
Opinion by Brad Johnson