Freedom Of Speech In Vietnam: Environmental Activists Jailed For Blogging About Toxic Spill
Despite the cultural modernization and economic boom experienced by Vietnam in the last decade, freedom of speech in Vietnam still suffers.
In Vietnam, state-led monitoring of online content has led to frequent arrests and convictions for those resisting lasting media censorship, most recently culminating in a 14-year jail sentence handed to an environmental journalist for anti-government speech.
Journalist and activist Hoang Duc Binh received this sentence from a court in the Nghe An province on Tuesday, according to lawyer Ha Huy Son.
Toxic Spill Devastates Several Central Vietnamese Provinces
Binh is 34-years old and a prominent blogger who was the latest to cover the toxic factory spill in Ha Tinh province, which wiped out the ocean life in the area in April 2016 and devastated the fishermen’s income in several central Vietnamese provinces.
The spill was made by the Taiwanese-owned Formosa Steel company, who paid $500 million in damages once an investigation revealed that their steel plant was responsible for the emission of cyanide and phenol during a test run of operations. The leak reached 200 km of coastline and resulted in scores of dead or poisoned fish, which rippled into a lack of squid and many individuals falling ill from consumption.
Since 2016, communities of central Vietnam have vocally protested to raise their concerns about this environmental blow, and the slow government response to the event.
Environmental Activist Takes Freedom Of Speech In Vietnam Too Far, Blogs About Toxic Spill
In February 2017, Binh posted a live stream of a more recent protest on his website, and – notably – he narrated a scene in which he saw officers become violent with the protesting fishermen.
It was these comments that led to Binh’s arrest. But he stood by them in court nearly a year later, when his lawyer said he refused to plead guilty.
Binh was charged with abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state, as well as opposing officers on duty.
Alongside Binh at the hearing was Nguyen Nam Phong, who was sentenced to two years for activism and resisting an officer, due to his actions as Binh’s driver on the day of the protests.
Multiple Convictions For Violating Freedom Of Speech In Vietnam Over Toxic Spill Activism
The conviction of these two men was preceded by two other high profile arrests on the grounds of media coverage of the Formosa Steel spill.
Prominent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known by her pen name Mother Mushroom, received a 10 year sentence in June, while Nguyen Van Hoa was sentenced to 7 years in prison in November 2017.
In the past month alone, eight people have been convicted and given prison sentences for spreading propaganda against the state, according to The Guardian.
Despite the cultural modernization and economic boom experienced by Vietnam in the last decade, media censorship is still enforced by the communist-led state. The rules of speech freedoms are met with tight regulations and strict consequences.
American Living In Vietnam Pushes Freedom Of Speech In Vietnam Boundaries
Another popular blogger met by intervening authorities this month was YouTube blogger Dan Hauer, an American man living and teaching English in Hanoi.
Hauer posted a crude joke on a public Facebook discussion page, likening a Vietnamese military hero General Vo Nguyen Giap to his testicles.
The largely Vietnamese audience in the discussion group responded with outrage, and the comment passed quickly across social media, eventually resulting in several death threats, according to Hauer.
Shortly thereafter, Hauer posted an apology video on Facebook. The video, which has received a million views, was captioned “Dan wants to explain and say I’m sorry”
Still, Hauer was issued a letter from the Ministry of Information and Communications, summoning him to a meeting on January 30, according to VietNamNet. His final repercussions have not yet been announced.