Vietnam Cyber-Dissident Defiant

A Vietnamese cyber-dissident is freed after serving 2-1/2 years in jail, and insists he did nothing wrong.
2009-02-18
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HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam: Cyber-dissident Huynh Nguyen Dao is taken to court, May 10, 2007.
AFP
BANGKOK—Vietnamese writer and cyber-dissident Huynh Nguyen Dao was released Wednesday after serving a 2-1/2-year prison term for anti-government crimes, defiantly insisting that Vietnamese citizens have a right and a duty to speak out.

“I think that any Vietnamese citizen has the right to show his or her patriotism,” Dao said in an interview just after his release in Ho Chi Minh City. “To speak our conscience is our responsibility. This is my greatest desire.”

Dao—who also uses the pen name Huynh Viet Lang—was arrested along with Le Nguyen Sang and Nguyen Bac Truyen in August 2006.

All three were charged with "storage of anti-government materials" and handed jail terms. An appellate court later reduced all three sentences, with Dao handed the shortest jail term of 2-1/2 years. The court found them guilty of "propagandizing against the state."

To speak our conscience is our responsibility."
Huynh Nguyen Dao

“I served my whole sentence without any amnesty. I didn’t petition for amnesty because I did nothing wrong. Every three months in jail, I was given a form to repent, but I always wrote that I was innocent,” he said.

“What I told the prison officials and security officials many times, and what I want to share with everybody, is my call for dialogue,” Dao said, speaking by phone from his home, also in Ho Chi Minh City.

“I think that the foundation of democracy is dialogue. Without dialogue we will have unilateral action and irrational activities—and that won’t create a harmonious society."

Tough government line

Rebecca MacKinnon, a Hong Kong-based Internet expert, told a forum in Washington on Wednesday that Vietnam faces greater challenges than China in controlling dissent online, in part because Hanoi has failed to develop a viable domestic blog-hosting platform, which could be easily policed.

“It will be very interesting to see where that goes,” MacKinnon said, speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“But my understanding is that the main leverage that the government is using is just intimidation,” she said.

“If somebody’s blogging, and the government doesn’t like what they’re saying, they just arrest them ... They do it the old-fashioned way.”

Rights groups accuse Hanoi of using heavy-handed tactics to silence opposition to the Communist government.

In its 2008 report on human rights around the world, the U.S. State Department stated that a “crackdown on political dissent that started in late 2006 and continued through April resulted in the arrest and detention of approximately 30 activists.”

In 2007, it said, “the government continued its crackdown on dissent, arresting a number of political activists and disrupting nascent opposition organizations, causing several political dissidents to flee the country.”

Original reporting by An Nguyen. Additional reporting by Richard Finney. Edited by Khanh Nguyen. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.