Six months after being deported to the United States following his release from a prison in Vietnam, dissident blogger Nguyen Van Hai, also known by his pen name Dieu Cay, spoke to RFA's Vietnamese Service about meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama about global press freedom. Hai, whose online articles had criticized communist rule and highlighted alleged abuses by the authorities, was arrested in 2008 and sentenced a year later to 30 months in jail on a charge of "tax evasion" but was not freed after completing his term. He was later charged with carrying out propaganda against the state and sentenced in 2012 to 12 years in prison. After being freed on Oct. 21, 2014, he was immediately deported to the United States.
RFA: Your return to Washington this time has tremendous significance. Three years ago, in a speech on Press Freedom Day, President Barack Obama mentioned you by name. Partially due to that, you were released from prison and flew here about six months ago. Can you tell us what you and the president spoke about during this meeting?
Hai: Thanks to the efforts of President Obama and the U.S. government, I was released from prison and was able to come to the U.S. During today’s meeting, the president spoke with three journalists about global press freedom—me, a journalist from Russia and one from Ethiopia. I expressed my sincere gratitude towards the president and the U.S. government for paying attention to my case and helping to free me from prison. I also told him about the situation of press freedom and the freedom of expression in Vietnam, as well as prisoners of conscience. After that, I presented a list of my colleagues who need his help.
RFA: Do you think there is a connection between the president meeting you about global press freedom and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommendation to the State Department to put Vietnam back on the Countries of Particular Concern list?
Hai: The president and the U.S. government pay a great deal of attention to press and religious freedom in Vietnam. About two days ago, I met with Senator Dick Durbin and spoke to him about freedom of the press and expression, as well as the issue of prisoners of conscience. On the same day, the State Department demanded that the government of Vietnam immediately release prisoner of conscience Ta Phong Tan, who is a member of our free journalist club. I don’t know if my meeting with the president was related, but we have seen the results my friends back home and I were hoping for. The efforts of people in Vietnam to help our club have now achieved some results.
RFA: A former prisoner of conscience visiting the White House and speaking with the president is a very special thing. It also comes just ahead of a scheduled visit by Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and amid speculation that Obama will visit Vietnam at the end of this year. What is the significance of this?
Hai: I think this is the right time—it’s a very important time for democracy activists as well as journalists in Vietnam. During today’s meeting I asked the president to raise the issue of freedom of the press and expression, and prisoners of conscience, at the scheduled visit by Trong, as well as to urge that Vietnam eradicate articles of the law the leadership is using to restrict the press and expression, because those articles do not comply with international conventions signed by Vietnam and U.S.
RFA: It has been six months since you left a Vietnamese prison and came here, pledging to continue your fight for freedom online. Have you made progress on that goal?
Hai: There are always difficulties, especially for a new organization. We must overcome such difficulties to achieve our goals. We have established the free journalist club overseas, but we are still in the process of building our website. We have a lot of activities that we plan to do to promote freedom of the press and expression in Vietnam, and we are exploring ways to send information to international organizations to protect journalists in Vietnam. We have achieved some results, but we hope to find additional support to finish our job … especially support from the media.
Reported by Nam Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service.