Journalists Find That In Vietnam There Is No Drunk Defense for Criticism

2016-12-06
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The wreath of Vietnam Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong is seen placed next to a large portrait of Fidel Castro posted in front of the Cuban embassy in Hanoi as a solider stands guard, Nov. 28, 2016.
The wreath of Vietnam Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong is seen placed next to a large portrait of Fidel Castro posted in front of the Cuban embassy in Hanoi as a solider stands guard, Nov. 28, 2016.
AFP

A pair of Vietnamese journalists were punished after one of them got drunk and posted a tirade critical of late Cuban leader Fidel Castro on his personal Facebook page, RFA’s Vietnamese service has learned.

Journalist Phung Hieu was removed from his position at the Nha Vao & Cong Luan (Journalists & Public Opinion), newspaper after a post in which he criticized Castro for leading Cuba into poverty and isolation.

“After 50 years ruling Cuba with dictatorship, conservativeness and blind worship of Marxism, Fidel Castrol has left behind an obsolete and poor Cuba,” his post read. “Hopefully, after his death, the Cuban people will integrate with the modern world.”

Hieu took down his post after the suspension was announced, telling the BBC on Dec 2, that he wrote the post after a night of drinking.

According to the decision signed by Thuan Huu, chairman of the Vietnamese Journalists Association, the paper’s Editor-in-Chief Nguyen Ngoc Nien was suspended for a month for poor management of the news outlet.

The decision did not elaborate the specific wrongdoings that Nien committed, but on Dec 2, Hieu, who works in the paper’s Saigon office, was said to be suspended. No information was given on the length of the reporter’s suspension.

Nien told the BBC that: “Hieu wrote this status to express his personal opinions which violate the (guided) general opinion so he was disciplined and suspended. Nguyen Ngoc Nien added: “This not only affects Hieu but people above him.”

‘His status told the truth, and there is nothing wrong with it’

Freelance journalist Nguyen Dinh Am told RFA that the suspensions show the folly of reporting the truth in Vietnam, even if it is on a personal Facebook page.

“His status told the truth, and there is nothing wrong with it, but it goes against the party’s line,” Nguyen Dinh Am said. “That is it. There is no law applied in the case.”

Journalists have come under increasing pressure in Vietnam where all media is controlled by the state, Nguyen Dinh Am explained.

“Things has become more difficult recently,” he said. “You could write something a bit different from the party’s line before, but the party has become stricter on this. One can be fired or suspended immediately if one says anything just that deviates even a little bit from the party’s line.”

Journalist Nguyen Thong who works for the state media outlet Mot The Gioi (One World) defended Phung Hieu.

“I have read Phung Hieu’s status again, and I found nothing wrong,” he said. “He only told a bitter truth that people in our country do not want to recognize.”

Phan Huu Minh, head of Vietnamese Journalists Association’s inspection unit refused to comment on the suspensions.

Press repression

Vietnam rates 175th out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders (RWB) press freedom index, and the one-party state frequently imprisons independent bloggers and citizen-journalists.

According to RWB, the Vietnamese “Decree No. 72” restricts Internet use to “personal information” while “abusing democratic freedoms” is punishable by imprisonment under the criminal code. According to the organization, the vaguely defined offense allows the authorities to gag every kind of dissident.

In October Vietnamese authorities arrested popular blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who writes under the pen name Mother Mushroom and is a co-founder the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers.

Also in October, an editor working for a state media outlet was fired when he apparently crossed the line on free expression by publishing excerpts from an exiled dissident who runs a popular blog on sensitive topics.

Nguyen Nhu Phong, the editor of state-run website PetroTimes, was fired and stripped of his press card "for committing wrongdoing in press activities,” the Ministry of Information and Communications said in a statement at the time.

The ministry did not elaborate on the reason for Nguyen Nhu Phong’s firing, but local journalists told RFA that the sacking came after excerpts of an interview with exiled blogger Nguoi Buon Gio also known as Bui Thanh Hieu.

Nguoi Buon Gio is one of Vietnam’s most well-known bloggers, who documents human rights violations through films, photos and short texts. He is a fellow of the Writers in Exile Program of PEN Germany, and now lives in Germany.

Reported by by Than Pham for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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