Vietnamese Reporter Fired for Critical Essay

2013-02-26
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Nguyen Dac Kien in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Kien/Facebook

A state-run newspaper in Vietnam has fired a journalist after he criticized the ruling Communist Party general secretary for speaking out against political reforms.

The official Family and Society newspaper announced its decision to fire reporter Nguyen Dac Kien for “violating the rules of his contract” and said it was disassociating itself from his views in a statement issued Tuesday.

Family and Society would like to inform its readers that Nguyen Dac Kien violated the operating rules of the newspaper and his labor contract. Therefore, the discipline panel of the newspaper convened and decided to discipline Nguyen Dac Kien by firing him,” the statement read.

“As of now, Nguyen Dac Kien is no longer with the newspaper and he is held accountable before the law for his words and behavior. Organization and individuals wishing to contact the newspaper should speak with the office directly, not through Nguyen Dac Kien.”

The announcement of his sacking came less than 24 hours after Kien’s essay, which criticized a recent speech by Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, became a viral sensation online in Vietnam.

‘Ready for anything’

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Tuesday, Kien maintained that he has done nothing wrong.

But he said that he does not blame the newspaper for removing him because of the potential fallout from his article.

“My awareness of citizen’s rights did not come yesterday or the day before—it has been a long process. The motivation to express that awareness came after listening to what [Trong] said on television,” he said.

In an address carried on national television Monday, Trong had lambasted a recent “deterioration” of the country’s morals and ethics and slammed critics who had called for the removal of a constitutional provision that underlines the leadership role of the Communist Party.

“Recently there have been some comments that have contributed to the deterioration of the political, ideological and moral environment,” Trong said.

“There are people who have called for the removal of Article 4 of the Constitution, who have questioned the Party's leadership role [and] who have called for multiparty pluralism [and] who seek separation of powers and railed against the politicization of the military,” he said.

Article 4 states that the Communist Party “is the force assuming leadership of the State and society.”

“People take these ideas and express them through the mass media. If that isn’t contributing to deterioration, what is?" Trong asked.

Kien, who is known for his nationalist views, wrote in response that Trong only had the right to criticize members of the Communist Party.

“You are the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party. If you want to use the word deterioration, then you can only use it in reference to people who are Party members,” he wrote.

“If you and your comrades want to keep Article 4, maintain your leadership, politicize the military, and do not want pluralism or separation of powers, then it is your own wish and your Party’s. You can’t assume that is the wish of the Vietnamese people,” he said, adding that such views are also unlikely to represent the entirety of the Communist Party.

Kien also told RFA that despite the popularity of his article, he had done nothing especially courageous and that “anybody who is pushing for Vietnamese democracy has to make the same sacrifices I have.”

“I’m not surprised by the decision to fire me. I understand and sympathize with the leaders of the newspaper … I would like people to sympathize with the newspaper—don’t strongly criticize them, because if I were them I might have done the same,” he said.

He said he was “ready for anything” that he might face because of his decision to write the article, but said he hoped that everybody—from ordinary Vietnamese people to the leaders of government—might learn to be more open-minded and accepting of ideas different from their own.

“I’m not worried for myself, but I worry about my family—my wife, my child, and my parents. I understand the path I have chosen.” Kien said.

“My words are for everybody … In a free country, [what I did] is a normal thing. I hope we can all join hands to push for freedom and democracy in Vietnam.”

Call for change

Kien said in his article that no Communist Party document backed up Trong’s claims about moral deterioration being linked to calls for reforms.

“There is no such article that says removing Article 4 constitutes deterioration, or that pluralism and the depoliticizing of the military amounts to deterioration. Only party corruption, or when party policy works against the benefit of the people, can it be called deterioration,” he said.

In addition to the removal of Article 4, Kien called for a conference to set up a new constitution to better “represent the people’s spirit, not the Party’s” and for the implementation of a multiparty system in Vietnam.

He expressed his support for the separation of powers with an emphasis on a system that increases autonomy for local government, the elimination of state-owned corporations, and the depoliticizing of the military.

Reported by Chan Nhu for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.