On September 12, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued an administrative order–number 7169–accusing us, Danlambao, of “publishing information that is false, fabricated, and untruthful to slander the leadership of the nation, to agitate the people against the Party and the State, to cause doubts and create bad publicity reducing the people’s trust in the state leadership.” The order directed the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Information Communication and Media to investigate and discipline any groups or individuals who affiliate with Danlambao.
This is not unexpected. We wait to see how the ministries will utilize their staffs and the state’s powerful machinery–funded by our people’s tax money–to lawfully, transparently, and publically prove the accusations against us.
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The prime minister also directed all ministries, state agencies, local officials, and public servants “not to read, to use, to spread, nor to disseminate any information from Danlambao.” This order is a direct violation of the freedom of expression enshrined in our constitution and of the international convention on human rights to which Vietnam is a signatory. All public servants and officials first of all are citizens of Vietnam, and secondly are the people’s representatives. In order to fulfill their duties, they must have the right to access and assess freely information about the state and its system; such rights enable them to recognize criticisms and proposals to correct and improve in the public interest.
Danlambao will not succumb to any state order aimed at silencing us. No government or political party has the right to choose for the people what information they can read, hear, or exchange. Political, economic, and social policies; conditions for freedom of speech and human rights; and territorial disputes with China are all vital topics for Vietnamese citizens. Additionally, our readership hungers for information about Communist Party leaders–their personal wealth or their abuse of power and corruption, or the infighting that occurs between party factions. Danlambao will continue to provide information and multidimensional views on these and other topics, and to create a forum where our readers report news and represent their own perspectives on matters which affect their daily lives. Additionally, Danlambao will not side with any faction within the Party nor allow ourselves to be influenced by any “foreign” or “hostile” force–as the prime minister accuses us of doing. We reject the influence of any political power or elite. It is the nation that we serve.
Of course, we must balance this commitment with our responsibility to protect our contributors, our news gatherers, and our community of bloggers from the authorities’ harassment and threats. This demands careful work and planning. In order to cover an important event–a land dispute or an anti-China protest, a court trial, a labor strike– our contributors sometimes must quietly leave their homes days in advance and stay in hiding. Once they are ready to send their news to our editorial team, they must have plans and methods to do so immediately and anonymously, without leaving saved documents on their computers or any other trail. Our contributors include not only independent newsgatherers and freelancers, but also reporters from mainstream media and informants from within the government.
And the battle is not finished once the news has been gathered. The authorities’ cyber army takes aim at Danlambao with nonstop distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, malware, and firewalls. Last year, DDoS attacks ahead of the Party’s five-yearly congress and the trial of legal scholar and human rights campaigner Cu Huy Ha Vu were so severe that we were forced to switch blog platforms.
The day after order 7169 was broadcast on state media in Vietnam, the number of page views on our site soared to 500,000. In response to this failure to threaten people to stop reading Danlambao, authorities apparently shored up firewalls; this succeeded in bringing the number of page views back down to 280,000 on average per day.
In the long term, we believe that the Vietnamese media will change–has already changed to a certain degree–and we take pride in our role influencing that evolution. We expect more journalists who work for state-owned media to join the free and independent bloggers’ community. We expect independent media to become a viable alternative to state-owned media; already Party leaders are using our site to criticize one another, especially during elections or other politically sensitive times. Some of our friends and colleagues who work for state-owned media tell us that they must change simply to compete, if not for other, morally-driven reasons. We welcome such competition.
In the meantime, Danlambao calls upon all our contributors, readers, and supporters to continue sending a clear message to Prime Minister Dung that we are committed to freedom of expression by each of us:
- introducing a new friend to Danlambao.
- helping someone who does not yet know how to circumvent a firewall.
- posting a positive and constructive comment to encourage others to hope for the best for our nation.
- scribbling the address of our site, danlambaovn.blogspot.com, on dong bank notes, so that it reaches potential readers across our country
- writing it on any walls, back alleys, or corner of the streets.
- drawing our Danlambao symbols: a white pigeon (for peace) and green heart (for love) on tables at coffee shops and restaurants, on public walls, sidewalks, etc.
Together we will walk the challenging journey with other free, independent journalists to bring the truth and uncensored news with integrity and credibility to all.
Danlambao, or Citizen Journalist, is a Vietnamese-language collective blog, posting critical news and editorials. Its editorial team works in anonymity.