Distorted Headlines: Vietnam's Suppression
Wives of political dissidents Vu Thuy Ha and Bui Kim Ngan
are restrained by Vietnamese authorities from entering
the U.S. Ambassador Marine's residence in Vietnam.
Photos courtesy of Office of Congresswoman Loretta
Sanchez (D-Garden Grove)
By Rep. Loretta Sanchez, special to Fog City
May 2, 2007
The media has historically played a major role in strengthening
democracies and fostering development around the world. As a human
rights advocate, I think the power of the press and fighting to
improve human rights go hand-in-hand.
Government propaganda and press censorship aims to create a distorted
reality and manipulate thought among a government's citizenry.
Although the Vietnamese government would argue that freedom of
the press does exist, how do they explain the recent incarceration
of journalists Nguyen
Vu Binh and Tran
Khai Thanh Thuy?
Sanchez with Vu Thuy Ha and Bui Kim Ngan
Although the Vietnamese Constitution says "the citizen shall
enjoy freedom of opinion and speech, freedom of the press, the
right to be informed, and the right to assemble, form associations
and hold demonstrations in accordance with the provisions of the
law" the reality is that the flow of information is still
subject to the discretion of the government.
The statistics speak for themselves:
- Vietnam has no private ownership of its 500-plus newspapers
- Approximately 2,000 of Vietnam's 5,000 Internet sites are currently
blocked for posting content that the state has deemed "subversive"
- Foreign journalists are subjected to harsh scrutiny when covering
stories within Vietnam, and are often expelled if they are believed
to be working against the interests of the State;
- Radio Free Asia
is continually jammed;
- And journalists, poets, democracy and human rights advocates
and "cyber dissidents" continue to be harassed, placed
under house arrest, and issued harsh jail sentences.
And you see it in the headlines. Following my trip to Vietnam
last April, the headlines in the U.S. read: Vietnam
police bar dissidents' wives meeting US ambassador; O.C.
lawmaker: Hanoi 'goons' accosted group. Whereas the Vietnamese
government-controlled media headlines read: Terrorist
group works out plan for Sanchez's visit.
Conversely, headlines in my district (the 47th Congressional
District) that has one of the largest Vietnamese constituencies
outside of Vietnam, include stories of oppression, religious and
political persecution- painting a better picture of what is happening
in Vietnam. They have been a vehicle for informing Americans on
the injustices occurring in Vietnam.
World Press Freedom
Day (observed on May 3) celebrates press freedom and recognizes
the on-going plight for journalists to freely report the news.
Journalists in Vietnam struggle with censorship and persecution
everyday. Despite numerous publications and media outlets operating
in Vietnam, information is highly censored and monitored. Journalists
risk police retribution in speaking out against the government.
As a member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and Co-founder
of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam, I've participated in panel
discussions on the silencing of media in Vietnam and repeated
violations and persecution of freedom of expression and information
This year, I led an international effort in calling for the immediate
release of incarcerated journalist Nguyen Vu Binh, former journalist
for Tap Chi Cong San
(the Communist Newspaper's magazine). Binh was incarcerated shortly
after translating a U.S. Embassy document on democracy which was
later published. According to his wife, he has been food poisoned
several times in prison and needs immediate medical attention.
Although the congressional request gained the support of Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice, the Vietnamese government has not released
Another press suppression incident includes the recent arrest
of Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, an award-winning journalist and writer.
Thuy was reportedly taken into custody Saturday, April 21, at
her residence, where she was held under house arrest. According
to the Committee to Protect Journalists
(CJP) Thuy was charged with violating Article 88 of Vietnam's
criminal code, which prohibits the dissemination of information
that authorities deem harmful to the state.
Just this year, Reporters
Without Borders, reported the imprisonment of seven Vietnamese
journalists for violating criminal code for their writings or
online postings. Reporters Without Borders says that "Vietnam
remains one of the world's most repressive countries where the
Internet is concerned." They say, "[the [Vietnamese]
government blocks access to websites it considers politically
and morally 'dangerous,' including foreign news sites and those
of human rights organizations set up by Vietnamese abroad."
Despite their limitations, journalists in Vietnam continue to
risk their lives reporting factual information that often challenges
and questions government policy. Although the Vietnamese government
interrupts and monitors their channels of communication by fire
walling internet lines, jamming cell phones, shutting down media
outlets and arresting journalists they continue to write.
I will continue to work with my colleagues in the U.S. Congress
to promote awareness and policy debate on Vietnam's repressive
human rights policy and how it affects our country's relationship
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, and is an
essential tool in weighing the transparency and openness of society.
And Vietnam has a long way to go if it hopes to one day become
a fully integrated member of the global community.