Vietnam Bars Bloggers From Attending U.S. Congressional Briefing

Three Vietnamese bloggers have been barred from traveling to testify at a U.S. congressional briefing in Washington next week and attend a series of events to mark World Press Freedom Day, rights groups say, criticizing the authoritarian government in Hanoi for attempting to curtail a vibrant netizen movement in the country.

Among them was Pham Chi Dung, whose passport has not been returned to him nearly three months after it was seized by Vietnamese authorities who prevented him from traveling to Geneva to attend a meeting on the margins of a U.N. Human Rights Council conference examining Vietnam’s human rights record.

“The continued withholding of Pham Chi Dung’s passport is a serious violation of his rights,” said Sam Zarifi, the International Commission of Jurists’ Asia-Pacific Regional Director, in a statement Friday.

“It is alarming that the government of Vietnam is prepared to go to these lengths to intimidate human rights defenders like Pham Chi Dung in an attempt to prevent them from sharing information about Vietnam’s human rights situation with the rest of the world.”

Dung, a writer and civil society advocate, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that he would not be cowed by the travel ban, saying, “I’ll fight to get my passport back.”

He said his absence at the U.S. House of Representatives briefing on Tuesday would highlight the need for media freedom in Vietnam.

‘Independent media’

He said his message to the meeting was that “an independent media is key to an independent civil society that can keep the government in check.”

The other two bloggers who were denied permission to travel to Washington were Nguyen Lan Thang, who was stopped at Hanoi Noi Bai Airport and prevented from boarding his flight on April 5, and Anna Huyen Trang, a citizen journalist for Vietnamese Redemptorists’ News, who was stopped at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat Airport on April 13 and physically harassed by security police.

The ban on the trio highlights the challenges faced by the online community in Vietnam, rights groups said.

Meanwhile, six Vietnamese bloggers and activists have arrived in Washington to attend the congressional briefing and events ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

Popular blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who arrived on Friday, said his trip to Washington was “a dream come true as it’s so difficult for us to travel to the U.S.”

Asked whether he was concerned over the implications on his return home, he said,”That’s the least of my concerns as we are used to such difficulties.”

Constant criticism

The Vietnamese government has come under constant criticism from rights groups and Western governments for its intolerance of political dissent and systematic violations of freedom of religion.

All newspapers and television channels in Vietnam are state-run. Lawyers, bloggers, and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, according to rights groups.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says Vietnam is the world’s second biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, after China.