Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngọc Nhu Quynh was named 2015 Civil Rights Defender of the Year by the NGO Civil Rights Defenders. The Coordinator for the Vietnamese Bloggers Network began blogging in 2006 and under the pen name of Me Nam (Mother Mushroom) has openly criticized human rights abuses and corruption in Vietnam's one-party state. Kinh Hoa of RFA's Vietnamese Service interviewed her after she won the award.
Q: What was your feeling when you received this award?
A: Actually, first, I was surprised. After that I felt very honored to receive this award on behalf of all members in the Vietnam blogger network. This is not for an individual effort but for all bloggers in Vietnam, who are looking for freedom in general. It was like my feeling when I received a Human Rights Watch award in 2009. I still wish I did not have to receive such awards, because I live in an authoritarian country and I got the awards for fighting efforts. But we will have more freedom when we do not have to receive such awards.
Q: Were you informed in advance about this award and did you plan to go abroad to receive the award?
A: I was informed in advance about the award and I knew that I would not be able to leave Vietnam because I am forbidden to leave Vietnam. They took my passport in 2013. Besides, they did not inform me too long before the award presentation. The ceremony was really moving. They arranged an empty chair and the award was a pen put on the chair. When the ceremony began, one representative of the civil rights defenders organization put the pen on the empty chair, and then all the people in the hall stood up to applaud. At that moment, I thought the fact that I could not go to the ceremony to receive the award turned out to be a good thing because it told the world about Vietnam, about the situation of activists who fight for the freedom of speech in Vietnam.
Q: The government of Vietnam makes it difficult for many human right activists to earn a living, leaving them in a sensitive situation. Do you experience this?
A: I don’t see it the same (way). If I can't work in an office, for companies or government agencies, I still can make my living. If I can't work in an office, I can go out and do my own business. Making a living is not the most important thing. The most important thing is our attitude towards the government. You try to oppress me but I still can raise my voice. That is also an answer, an attitude, a form of not bowing down before them.
Q: After receiving the award, do you think you will be watched more closely by the government, and might have more difficulties?
A: Of course I will have difficulties, but as I spoke at the ceremony yesterday when asked about the significance of this award, I told them that when more international friends pay attention and support us, the dangers will decrease by a lot. I saw them all standing up to applaud. I think they understood my expression. One journalist of the journalist protection committee, Shawn Crispin, said that Quynh (blogger’s real name) and other bloggers in Vietnam in general will no longer be alone, but will have the whole world looking at us and supporting us. This is another piece of evidence to show the government of Vietnam how the world thinks about the human rights situation in Vietnam. I think this is a good signal and my safety is increased a bit.
Q: What is the next plan for the Vietnam blogger network?
A: The year of 2015 has been a difficult year, especially with the quiet arrest and release of bloggers since the end of 2014. The network and I, along with other civil society activists, are campaigning for democracy and human rights in Vietnam in 2015. We have collected more than 20,000 signatures. The year of 2015 also marks 40 years since the communists invaded the South. I think there will be a campaign by Vietnamese everywhere in the world for freedom and democracy. That is the goal that every Vietnamese wants to get to, not only me or the network. That is a common goal, as we put in our slogan ‘we are one’. I hope with the happiness this award brings about, the success of the campaign is the next step that we will see.