Vietnam Blocks Activists From Attending Foreign Media Seminar

Authorities in Vietnam on Wednesday prevented several dissident bloggers and activists from attending a social media conference held at the Australian Embassy in the capital Hanoi, according to a former prisoner who was among those blocked.

Authorities in Vietnam on Wednesday prevented several dissident bloggers and activists from attending a social media conference held at the Australian Embassy in the capital Hanoi, according to a former prisoner who was among those blocked.

The Australian Foreign Ministry had invited an equal number of civil society and government representatives to attend Wednesday’s seminar on “Modern Non-State Media in Vietnam”—the first by Australia to include participants from both sides, said Nguyen Van Dai, of the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience group.

“Recently, the Australian Embassy sent out many invitations, including to Pham Ba Hai from the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience as well as to three members of the Brotherhood for Democracy,” said Dai, who is also the founder of the Brotherhood.

“Pham Ba Hai was prevented from attending. The Brotherhood for Democracy had two members blocked from attending, and only one person was able to go,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

Dai said that the two members of The Brotherhood for Democracy who were prevented by authorities from attending the seminar were students Nguyen Van Trang and Ta Minh Thu.

“Yesterday morning, a group of three to five security officers entered [Trang’s] dorm room and monitored him. During the middle of the night, they pressured the landlord to kick him out. Without a place to stay, he had to return … to his hometown [in Thanh Hoa province],” he said.

“Also yesterday, security officers approached [Ta Minh Thu’s] family and asked her parents to make her stay at home during the seminar.”

According to media reports, in addition to the members of the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience and The Brotherhood for Democracy, representatives from other civil societies were also prevented from attending.

The reports said Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Me Nam, and part of the network of Vietnamese Bloggers, was blocked by police, while Nguyen Thi Nga and Huynh Phuoc Ngoc from Vietnamese Women for Human Rights were surrounded by security forces at the Truc Son motel in Hanoi and prevented from leaving.

According to Dai, the seminar, which was sponsored and organized by foreign diplomatic agencies, was created through funds annually put aside by the Australian government to improve the standards of law and human rights in Vietnam.

He said that setting up seminars and study trips which include both government and civil society representatives had been part of his recommendations to Australia’s Foreign Ministry when approached “some time ago” for suggestions on how to appropriate the budget.

Activists targeted

Dai said that Wednesday’s seminar was not the first event organized by a foreign agency or international organization in which invited members of Vietnam’s civil society groups were prevented from attending.

“Just yesterday, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief planned to visit the wife of [jailed] Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh in Gia Lai, but Gia Lai officials did not allow him to visit her home,” he said.

Chinh, who is also an activist, was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2012 for “undermining unity” by maintaining ties with dissident groups and distributing material deemed to have “slandered” government authorities.

According to Dai, the Vietnamese government still maintains ties with international organizations while persecuting local activists because “the nature of Communism … is monopoly on power.”

“[The authorities] stop everything and anything that they cannot oversee and manage,” he said.

“Civil societies exist because Vietnamese citizens see an indispensable need, so they volunteer. This lies outside the government’s scope of inspection and control so the regime does not want them.”

He said the authorities in Vietnam also fear that civil societies will form strong bonds with international organizations, which could give them the ability to influence the country’s people.

“According to the nature of the Communist Party, they would never want that. Therefore, they find every way possible to prevent [foreign] influence or prevent civil societies from participating in both international and local events.”

Developing civil society

Dai said that government methods to block civil society groups from participating in events like Wednesday’s seminar are gradually losing their effectiveness because improving technologies allow people greater access to information.

“The people of Vietnam and civil societies can, in one way or another, still have access to such knowledge. And they can interact and communicate with representatives of foreign governments or international organizations through social media or the Internet,” he said.

“To me, these blockages are becoming less and less effective every day, and at some point the government must also become aware of this and abandon these methods.”

Dai added that civil society groups are increasingly learning how to harness technology to promote their own information about democracy and human rights in Vietnam.

“This is a revolution changing ideology and knowledge. At the same time, links are being created via websites. Originally, individuals raised their voices for action in isolation, but gradually they formed groups and organizations,” Dai said.

“When you have many groups and organizations, [a movement] can create the potential to spread across society, forming larger groups, larger organizations, and even forming alliances. Only when we achieve this higher level can we create change in society,” he said.

“Civil societies and movements have yet to meet people’s expectations. But I have hope that in the days to come, they will take steps to develop faster and more powerfully to provide for a better Vietnam.”