2013 CPJ International Press Freedom Awardee
(Courtesy of Univision)
UPDATE: On November 25, 2014, Nguyen Van Hai attended CPJ’s 2014 International Press Freedom Awards and received his award in person.
Scroll down to watch or read his speech.
Nguyen Van Hai is one of the best-known bloggers in Vietnam’s burgeoning community of online journalists, who are striving to build an independent alternative to the state news monopoly. Hai is serving a 12-year prison sentence and is slated for five years of house arrest under a vague law that bars “conducting propaganda” against the state.
Hai’s blog entries have touched on politically sensitive issues, including protests against China, which disputes Vietnam’s claim to the nearby Spratly and Paracel islands, and government corruption. Hai also called for demonstrations against the Beijing Olympic torch relay which passed through Ho Chi Minh City in December 2007.
Hai’s troubles began in 2008, when he was imprisoned for five months without charge, after co-founding the unsanctioned Free Journalists Club of Vietnam while maintaining a widely read blog known as Dieu Cay (Peasant’s Pipe). A closed court sentenced him to two and a half years in prison in September 2008 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, which rights groups, including CPJ, have criticized as a pretext to stifle his critical blog postings about the government and its policies.
After completing his first prison term, Hai remained in detention while authorities investigated new anti-state charges related to his online journalism, which led to the sentence he is serving today. He has endured solitary confinement and waged a hunger strike. Prison visits are heavily restricted, but family members report that Hai’s health has deteriorated to such a degree that he is barely recognizable.
With at least 14 journalists behind bars at the end of 2012, Vietnam is Asia’s second worst jailer of the press, trailing only China, according to CPJ research. Many of those in detention have been charged or convicted of anti-state crimes related to their blog postings. Authorities have also ramped up Internet surveillance and filtering and applied even more pressure on the long-repressed mainstream media. The campaign of repression against independent bloggers has intensified in 2013 with harsh prison sentences, new arrests, and other forms of harassment.
Ladies and gentlemen, on October 21, 2014, I was escorted out of a Vietnamese communist prison and was forced into exile.
I was imprisoned twice consecutively and sentenced to 14 years and 6 months of imprisonment because, together with like-minded friends, I had formed a Free Journalist Network in order to exercise our right to free expression and free media.
My friend, Ms. Ta Phong Tan, was also sentenced to 10 years for the same crime.
Why were we oppressed with such harsh sentences while all we did was merely express our aspirations peacefully on the Internet?
Why were we suppressed when we only tried to help the weak to voice their own?
Why were we harassed for merely exercising our civil rights as enshrined in international conventions of which the Vietnamese government is a signatory?
It is because Vietnam is a totalitarian state who monopolizes the media and uses it to dominate public opinion and to serve the authorities’ purpose.
They do not allow their citizens to have free access to information on the Internet. Their Decree number 72 stipulates several prohibitions and many Internet restrictions.
They do not accept different opinions to exist in society. Anyone who dares take a position or comments on “sensitive” political issues can be regarded as staging propaganda against the state and will receive severe sentences.
In a totalitarian state as such, the people do not have the tools and means for speaking out, and voicing their aspirations.
Information technology has given us a new tool: we use blogs, Facebook … to exercise our right to freedom of the press and freedom of speech.
And the state arrests us, cracks down on us because of that.
Three members of the Free Journalist Network received a total of 26 years of prison time just because they dared to exercise their right to press freedom.
I have spent 6 years, 6 months in 11 different prisons. In those prisons, there remain many violations of human rights that I personally have witnessed. My jail mates and myself included have been deprived of all basic human rights.
My presence here is a victory of the relentless efforts of communities of bloggers and human rights defenders in Vietnam and abroad, the international human rights organizations, and of the U.S government who have put pressure on the Vietnamese authorities to force them to release me.
Among these tireless efforts was the Committee to Protect Journalists’ campaign, calling on everyone to sign the petition that urged the Vietnamese authorities to free me.
Today, I am out of prison. However, my friends and colleagues are still left behind, in jail. I must continue my struggle so that one day they all will also be free.
In closing, I sincerely hope that all journalists, all institutions to protect journalists, and all governments will keep at being vocal, and continue our fight to help free our colleagues from prisons and to advance press freedom around the world.
On behalf of journalists and bloggers who still languish in prison in Vietnam, I would like to thank CPJ and all of you for your concerns and help all these years.