European Parliament has chance to take on Vietnam

On Thursday, April 18, the European Parliament will discuss Vietnam’s human rights in a plenary session. At the top of the agenda will be freedom of expression. Over the weekend, CPJ’s Brussels-based Senior Adviser Jean-Paul Marthoz blogged about the issues the parliament must confront in Le Soir.  

Marthoz argues that because Vietnam has met with economic success and because its prolonged fight for independence drew international empathy, the country’s human rights policies have not been subject to appropriate criticism and scrutiny from European Union members.

He frequently cites Shawn Crispin’s September 2012 special report for CPJ, “Vietnam’s press freedom shrinks despite open economy.” Crispin has been writing consistently on Vietnam (and the rest of Southeast Asia) for almost a decade for CPJ. His most recent work includes a chapter in the 2013 edition of Attacks on the Press focused on Internet censorship in three Asia countries, particularly Vietnam, and news alerts on the case of Le Anh Hung as well as on the harsh sentencing in January of five bloggers.

The European Parliament has a real opportunity to pressure Vietnam’s leaders into stepping back from their harsh anti-media stance–one that has hardened since 2009, Crispin says. Like China, Vietnam in its drive to modernize has invested heavily in developing its digital communications network. Yet CPJ ranked Vietnam as the 6th worst place to be a blogger in 2009.

Where the country has not moved forward is in allowing opposition grassroots voices–many of them tied to religious or political groups with historical legitimacy going back as far as the Communist Party’s. In many ways, the Vietnam conflict of the 20th century was as much a civil war as a war for independence. The country’s independence has been settled but, because of suppression of dissident expression, its internal conflict has not.