The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion In Vietnam, Facebook posts are risky. Just ask these bloggers.

(Andrew Brookes/Getty Images/Cultura RF)

The secret police are no longer hiding behind lampposts. In Vietnam, they hunt down dissidents on Facebook. For those daring and outspoken enough to criticize the one-party police state, a Facebook post can lead to swift arrest and punishment, as it did for Bui Van Thuan.

Vietnamese authorities arrested Bui Van Thuan, 41, in August 2021. That month, he had posted on Facebook criticism of a government plan to use troops to shop for people under covid-19 lockdown. He also posted negative comments about the government’s appeal for financial donations to help fight the pandemic. According to Human Rights Watch, he wrote, “The Communist Party of Vietnam and its tentacle associations and organizations is a giant nest of parasites. They live parasitically from the sweat and work of the people, and they have absolutely no effect except for pulling the country back away from development and civilization.” After his arrest, he was accused of “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing information, materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Prosecutors issued an indictment in September this year in which they claimed to have found 105 articles he had posted on two Facebook accounts, of which 27 had content that went “against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Bui Van Thuan faces up to 12 years in prison.

The Communist Party of Vietnam holds a monopoly on power and tolerates no dissent, free speech or free association. Authorities have blocked websites and pressured media and telecommunications companies to remove content critical of the party or state. At least 23 journalists were in prison in Vietnam last year because of their work, as well as dozens of others who spoke out openly and honestly.

The persecuted include four contributors to Radio Free Asia, a private, independent organization that receives funding from the U.S. government. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a blogger on free speech and civil rights issues for RFA’s Vietnamese service for six years, was arrested in 2021 and indicted on a charge of “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes.” He was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Nguyen Van Hoa, an activist blogger who had been a video producer for RFA, got a seven-year prison term in 2017 for “conducting propaganda against the state,” a reference to his videos about the government’s handling of a devastating toxic waste spill in 2016. Truong Duy Nhat, another RFA blogger, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2020 in a politically motivated prosecution. He had been jailed from 2013 to 2015 for work criticizing Vietnam’s government. Nguyen Lan Thang, a contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service since 2013 and a pro-democracy activist and blogger, was arrested in July.

Also wrongly imprisoned in Vietnam is human rights blogger Pham Doan Trang, convicted in December 2021 of distributing “anti-state propaganda” in a trial lasting one day. She is serving a nine-year sentence. She was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists on Thursday with a 2022 International Press Freedom award.

Vietnam should release them all. Exercising free speech and conducting independent journalism are not crimes.

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