Censured Newspaper Defiant

Vietnam uses its tough media laws to close a newspaper for allegedly fanning nationalist flames over a territorial dispute with China.

2009.04.17
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Tourist-Newspaper-305.jpg Du Lich's Web site, April 16, 2009.
Screenshot takes from Du Lich's Web site.

BANGKOK—An editor of a Vietnamese newspaper closed for three months after it published articles related to a dispute with China over the Spratly and Paracel Islands says he would welcome a public debate on the suspension.

“I do not understand what they were thinking in making such a decision,” Nguyen Quoc Thai, assistant editor in chief of Du Lich (Tourism) newspaper, which publishes twice a week, said in an interview. “I read all the articles they mentioned and found nothing wrong with them.”

“I disagree with the Ministry of Information and Communication’s decision to ban Du Lich newspaper, and I am happy to publicly debate this issue on the media,” he said.

I read all the articles they mentioned and found nothing wrong with them."

Nguyen Quoc Thai, Du Lich newspaper

On Thursday, the official Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper said the Ministry of Information and Communication had shut down Du Lich on Tuesday for a "serious violation" of Vietnam's press law. It also said leadership at the paper would be reshuffled.

Authorities accused the paper of publishing false information, inciting violence, and sowing hatred among nations, Thanh Nien said, without elaborating.

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned the ban and called on authorities to permit the media to freely discuss the issue of the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

Praise for protesters

In its Lunar New Year edition earlier this year, the newspaper ran a series of articles supporting anti-China protesters, praising them for their "pure patriotism."

Thousands of demonstrators, mostly university students, gathered in late 2007 near the Chinese diplomatic missions in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to protest China's policy toward three archipelagos in the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands.

China had announced a plan to create a symbolic administrative region called Sansha to manage the disputed territory. The largely uninhabited islands and surrounding waters are believed to have large oil and natural gas reserves. They straddle busy sea lanes and are rich fishing grounds.

Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei also claim sovereignty over all or some of the Spratlys.

Although Vietnam's communist government opposes China's policy in the Spratlys, it wants to maintain friendly relations with its powerful northern neighbor.

The paper's deputy editor, Nguyen Trung Dan, was quoted by the BBC as saying  the newspaper had only reflected "the people's wishes."

"Being a Vietnamese, I did not think twice when I approved those articles. Isn't it a good thing to encourage patriotism among the public?"

Original reporting by Nam Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese service. Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Translations by Khiem Le. Written and produced for the Web by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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