Vietnamese Bloggers Highlight Restrictions in Talks With Diplomats

2013-08-07
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The Vietnamese bloggers entering the Swedish embassy in Hanoi, Aug 7, 2013.
The Vietnamese bloggers entering the Swedish embassy in Hanoi, Aug 7, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Le Hong Phong.

A group of Vietnamese bloggers met with a Swedish diplomat in Hanoi on Wednesday to voice concerns over government restrictions of political expression online, following a separate meeting last week with U.N. rights officials in Thailand, meeting participants said.

The five bloggers presented deputy ambassador Elenore Kanter with a copy of a petition, titled Declaration 258, which was signed by 100 supporters and calls for the repeal of Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code, participants said.

The law makes it a crime to “abuse democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State” and is one of several under which Vietnamese dissidents and writers have increasingly been jailed on vaguely defined charges.

“The deputy ambassador welcomed us,” blogger Nguyen Dinh Ha told RFA’s Vietnamese Service after the meeting. “We spoke for about two hours about human rights issues in Vietnam.”

“Of course this was not enough, but the time we had was good. The deputy ambassador said she would send all our information to the government of Sweden and the European Union,” he said.

“The purpose of our visit to the Swedish embassy was to present Declaration 258, [signed by] Vietnamese bloggers, calling for the elimination of Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code, and to talk with the embassy about human rights abuses in Vietnam in recent years,” blogger Nguyen Thu Trang, who also attended the meeting, told RFA.

Declaration 258 calls on Vietnam’s government and the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) to “review” provisions of the law, especially as Vietnam presses its candidacy for membership in the HRC during its 2014-16 session.

“It would be a great responsibility to serve as a member state of the Human Rights Council, and an opportunity to promote human rights domestically and abroad,” the Declaration reads in part, adding, “For a successful candidacy, we believe Vietnam must repeal or make amendments to Article 258 to ensure the Vietnamese people are free to educate themselves about and promote human rights.”

Land grabs, corruption

At their Wednesday meeting, the group also voiced concerns about land grabs and corruption in the one-party communist state and about the recent passage of an Internet regulation, Decree 72, that bars users from sharing news stories on social media sites, Trang said.

Decree 72, which will go into effect in September and has ignited a storm of protest among Vietnam’s Internet users since it was made public last week, contains a clause stipulating that blogs and social media sites should only be used to share “personal information.”

Other bloggers at the talks at the Swedish embassy included Le Hong Phong, Nguyen Ngoc Trai, and Nguyen Van Hien.

Blogger Nguyen Vu Hiep, who had planned to attend, was prevented from traveling to the embassy by police officers who surrounded his home, sources said.

Wednesday’s embassy meeting came a week after a group of Vietnamese bloggers met in Bangkok, Thailand, with U.N. human rights official Maria Isabel Sanz Garrido to present the same petition and share concerns.

"Bloggers from all parts of Vietnam including Hanoi, Saigon, and Danang presented Declaration 258 to the U.N. Human Rights Council," writer Nguyen Lan Thang said following the July 31 meeting.

“We were welcomed, and they received the declaration,” he said.

Bloggers Phuong Dung and Thao Chi, who took part in the July 31 meeting, were briefly detained on their return from Bangkok to Vietnam on August 5, sources said.

Vietnam has jailed more than 40 bloggers and activists this year amid a crackdown on online dissent that has intensified over the past three years, convicting many of them under vaguely worded national security provisions, according to rights groups.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 172nd out of 179 countries on its press freedom index and lists the country as an “Enemy of the Internet.”

Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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