Vietnamese Activists Form 'Brotherhood for Democracy'

vietnam-netizen-laptop-jan-2013.jpg A man reads news on his laptop at a coffee shop in Hanoi, Jan. 15, 2013.

A group of mostly former jailed dissidents in Vietnam have set up a new online group to coordinate efforts to bring democracy to the country, now under one party communist rule.

The movement, known as the "Brotherhood for Democracy," was established about 10 days ago and the membership has grown to 70 so far.

The group wants to move away from what it calls individual- and petition-based approaches that have been taken so far to highlight the need to bring freedom to the country, organizers said.

"It is time for domestic democracy activists to gather to discuss and find the shortest path for democracy in Vietnam," lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, a former dissident prisoner and co-founder of the group, told RFA's Vietnamese Service.

"Before this, [pro-democracy] movements in Vietnam were just individual-based," he said. "There was no coordination. That was why they were weak."

"Now with the Brotherhood for Democracy, we can maximize the strong points of each individual, creating collective strength to fight more vigorously and, at the same time, help one another to overcome weak points. This helps to create a solidarity between us."

Bloc 8406

The biggest online Vietnamese group pushing for democratic reforms is Bloc 8406. It was organized across the country in 2006, but many of its leaders, including co-founder Roman Catholic priest and dissident Nguyen Van Ly are languishing in prison.

Ly was involved in various pro-democracy movements, for which he was imprisoned for a total of almost 15 years. His support for Bloc 8406 led to his latest sentence on March 30, 2007, for an additional eight years in prison, where he was released and then jailed again in 2011.

Unlike the Bloc 8406, the Brotherhood for Democracy is largely based in northern Vietnam, observers say.

"The democracy movement in Vietnam has reached a very high level [of momentum]," said Pham Van Troi who was among the first to sign up for membership in the new group after emerging from prison recently following a four-year sentence in October 2009 for pro-democracy activism.

"Many people want to join the brotherhood or want to establish their own groups. They are activists who fight for human rights in Vietnam everyday … We only care for our universal goal and work together toward that goal," he told RFA.


Both Dai and Troi said there was no need to seek permission from the Vietnamese authorities to register the group and hoped the government will not harass the members over the move.

"We set up this association on the Internet," Troi said. "We use information technology to seek democracy for the Vietnamese. Vietnam law does not have any regulations related to this kind of online activity."

"And because we don’t have to ask permission from the government, we hope not to face any interrogations by the government."

Dai said Vietnamese law, under Article 69, allowed for freedom to form an association of expression.

Online interaction

He said Brotherhood for Democracy would evolve based on online interaction through social utility groups like Facebook.

"We created a connection between us without being controlled by the law of Vietnam and we don' t need to ask for permission. We only have to adhere to the rules set by Facebook, service providers, U.S. law and international law," he said.

"Our law does not prohibit that activity. Everybody can meet on the Internet and when we see one another in real life, we also do not need to have any permission."

Dai also made clear that the Brotherhood for Democracy was not intended to stifle the growth of pro-democracy groups.

"If there are only a few associations or political groups, there is no way to force a big change in Vietnam. At the moment, we need many associations and groups to develop in different areas, including people from all walks of life, so in the future they can be big and strong enough to create a coalition, a bigger organization," he explained.

"By that time we can pressure the government to make changes to the pave the way for democracy, bringing benefits to all Vietnamese people in Vietnam."

Reported by An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai and Joshua Lipes.


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