Closing Blog Was ‘Painful’

A noted Vietnamese blogger and government critic describes her detention.

Vietnam Internet Cafe 305 Vietnamese online at an Internet cafe in Hanoi, Aug. 22, 2007.
AFP Photo

BANGKOK—A well-known Vietnamese blogger said it was “painful” to quit her online writing, which had been critical of the government, but she agreed to stop so she could be released from detention.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, 31, who blogged as “Me Nam,” or “Mushroom's Mother,” was arrested Sept. 3. She was the last of three bloggers recently arrested and released for what the government says were legitimate national security reasons.

“They told me not to use that blog. They said that was a political plot by some Vietnamese… that that was what incited me,” she said. “I accepted everything so I could go home.”

“Stopping a blog is simple—you just close it,” she said. “But today when I had to announce that I won’t blog anymore, it was painful.”

Being in prison for “10 days and nine nights—it was terrible,” she said in an interview.

In her last blog posting, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh wrote a farewell letter to her readers.

In the entry, she explains that the hardship she endured in prison caused her to give up writing.

"Through what happened to me in the last few days, I painfully recognize that how we express patriotism still depends on the regime," she said.

"Participants…must abide by the rules of the game, and in my current position, I don’t have a choice."

Mining at issue

On 27 August, blogger Bui Thanh Hieu, also known as Nguoi Buon Gio, was arrested in Hanoi.

A day later journalist Pham Doan Trang, who worked for one of the most visited semi-official news Web sites, VietnamNet, was also arrested. She also ran a well-read personal blog.

All three opposed China's claims of sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, which Vietnam, among other governments, also claims.

They also criticized a government plan to partner with a Chinese state-owned firm to exploit bauxite reserves in Vietnam's Central Highlands.

Bauxite mining drew national attention last year when war hero Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap urged the government to reconsider it. Hanoi doesn’t want anti-China sentiments to get out of hand, and it tightly controls the country’s media.

Officials said “their plan to exploit bauxite is in the interest of the whole country, not of some individual group,” Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh said. “But I’m upset because this information isn’t open to the public.

She said she was questioned several times in July this year when she wore a T-shirt opposing the bauxite mine and asserting that the Spratly and Paracel islands belong to Vietnam.

Pledge to be ‘more subtle’

Bui Thanh Hieu, 37, the blogger also known as Nguoi Buon Gio or “Wind Trader,” was released Sept. 5.

He was arrested in late August after blogging critically about the planned bauxite mine and Vietnam’s disputed claim to islands in the South China Sea.

“I will continue reading blogs. I might continue writing, but I will write in a more subtle way. I will write in a way that is more suitable for my situation,” he said in an interview.

Police searched Hieu's house after his arrest and confiscated two of his computers and other personal belongings, the Free Journalists Network of Vietnam (FJNV), an independent press freedom group, said.

Pham Doan Trang, 31, was released Sept. 6 after being arrested in late August. Her blog, titled “Ridiculous,” covered the same topics.

Hanoi’s new watchdog

On Sept. 3, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the arrests and said in a statement that Trang had recently reported on territorial disputes with China.

It cited the FJNV as saying Trang also shared sensitive information with bloggers and other journalists about a Chinese advisor for economic and trade issues who called on his Vietnamese counterparts to discipline certain local newspapers and journalists.

The Vietnamese government created the Administration Agency for Radio, Television, and Electronics Information in 2008 and charged it with with monitoring the Internet and bloggers.

In recent months, authorities have blocked local access to Singapore-based Yahoo 360°, according to CPJ. The site was nearly exclusively popular with Vietnamese bloggers.

Yahoo recently introduced a new version of its service called Yahoo 360+, but many bloggers do not trust the site's privacy provisions and have moved to WordPress or social networking sites such as Facebook and Multiply.

Original reporting by An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Translated by Hanh Seide. Written for Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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