A series of articles in many languages, from many news agencies around the world, simultaneously reported and analyzed the detention of dissident journalist Pham Doan Trang, who was charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
With this allegation, Ms. Pham Doan Trang could face the highest sentence of 20 years in prison.
On October 7, BBC News published an article titled “Pham Doan Trang: Vietnam arrest famous pro-democracy blogger.” It states:
“Vietnam arrested a prominent dissident writer and blogger just hours after talks with the US on human rights.”
“The US State Department said on its website that the 24th Vietnam-US Human Rights Dialogue was held for three hours on October 6 and” addresses a wide range of human rights issues.”
“The promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms remains an important pillar of US foreign policy and is key to the further strengthening of the Vietnam-US Comprehensive Partnership.”
Dissident journalist Pham Doan Trang was arrested by Vietnamese government on the evening of October 6
On the same day, The Guardian of the UK had an article titled: “Vietnam arrested famous journalists when the state suppressed freedom of expression online.”
It said that Pham Doan Trang is the author of many books on many topics, from women’s rights, LGBT to the environment, campaign activities and land rights. The article stated the comments of analysts:
“Trang’s arrest was part of a campaign to crack down on activists ahead of Vietnam’s National Congress in January, while Facebook is facing criticism for its growing complicity to suppression on free speech.”
British news agency Reuters reported that “Vietnam arrested the activist a few hours after the human rights dialogue with the US.” The newsletter writes:
“International human rights groups and sources report that Vietnam detained a blogger and a dissident known for her “anti-state activities” several hours after the government organized the annual human rights dialogue with the United States …
The Bloomberg page also quoted a statement by Phil Robertson, Asia Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), saying the arrest came hours after the annual human rights dialogue between the United States and Vietnam.
“Doan Trang’s blog, which covers politically sensitive topics, including the relationship between Vietnam and China and the tensions over sovereignty over islands,” Robertson said. According to Robertson, police arrested Trang in May 2016 when she went to meet then US President Barack Obama, who invited her to attend an activists’ meeting with him during his visit to Hanoi.
Aljazeera news agency also reported on Pham Doan Trang’s arrest. This magazine depicts her as a celebrity for her active field work, participating in demonstrations in support of imprisoned dissidents, environmental protests and in response to maritime claims of China in the South China Sea.
“Trang has been on the radar of security forces for more than 10 years and has been detained and harassed several times, including when she was on her way to a meeting with then US President Barack Obama in 2016, and a year later, after she met with a EU delegation on a fact-finding tour ahead of the annual human rights dialogue with Vietnam,” it wrote.
The Book Seller reported that Ms. Pham Doan Trang is expected to speak in a joint session presented by the International Publishers’ Association at the Frankfurt Book Fair and that her speech video will be broadcast as planned on October 15.
In an article titled “Prix Voltaire Winner Pham Doan Trang is arrested in Vietnam,” The Book Seller quoted Kristenn Einarsson, chairman of the IPA’s Publication Freedom Committee, saying: “This is terrible news but sadly, foreseeable, Pham Doan Trang and the Liberal Publishing House have been undercover for many years. Frame’s work and courage are a source of inspiration for all houses. publishers, and the international publishing community must support her and fight for real publishing freedom in Vietnam.”
Juergen Boos, president of Frankfurter Buchmesse, said: “We were very concerned about Pham Doan Trang’s arrest, just before the start of the world’s largest book fair, which celebrates freedom of expression. We are glad that the international publishing community will be listening to Pham Doan Trang in the pre-recorded video at the seminar on the topic of ‘Guerrilla publishing and international assistance‘.”
The Theshiftnews page quoted Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific Department of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) – which gave Pham Doan the Press Freedom Award for Influence in 2019: “The arrest Pham Doan Trang is the latest stage in pursuit of the increasing persecution policy of the current leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam.”
“Her only crime is to provide her fellow citizens with independent information and help them fully exercise their rights under the Vietnamese Constitution. Her whereabouts are not prisons and she must be released immediately.”
The RSF representative also said that the most recent contact with Pham Doan Trang was when she was hospitalized to treat her leg injuries believed to be caused by the police after her arrest in 2018.
Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said in an article posted on the organization’s website: “The Vietnamese government should immediately release Pham Doan Trang and abolish all charges against her. At the same time, end the decades-long campaign of persecution. Vietnam should stop treating independent journalists as criminals.”
Vietnam is often near the bottom of the RSF rankings for press freedom, and currently stands at 174 out of 180 countries.
Increase the suppression of freedom of speech
The case of Pham Doan Trang’s arrest, Ms. Yu Hah from Amnesty International told The Guardian that Facebook’s decision to comply with Vietnamese authorities’ censorship requests earlier this year “made them complicit with the country’s harsh suppression of free speech.”
“We have seen a continued increase in the censorship of legitimate comments on social and political issues on this platform since 2018, with an exceptionally strong increase in 2020.”
“Simply sharing information on many of Vietnam’s serious human rights issues, from land disputes to the death penalty, has become routinely arbitrarily censored on Facebook,” said Yu Hah.
Ms. Pham Doan Trang won the Press Freedom Award, Influence category, from Reporters Without Borders, 2019
The Guardian reiterated that in March 2020, a Reuters report revealed how Facebook faced intense pressure from the Vietnamese government. State-run telecom companies have turned off Facebook’s servers located in Vietnam. This slows down local traffic on Facebook.
As a result, Facebook began censoring content deemed “anti-state” in Vietnam, including content posted by activists like Pham Doan Trang.
Facebook emphasizes that the posts are not deleted but “geoblocked,” meaning that users with Vietnamese IP addresses cannot see them, but are still visible to overseas users.
But the Guardian article argues that geoblocking affects not only important posts but also personal accounts.
The example given is the case of Bui Van Thuan, a Vietnamese Facebook user with tens of thousands of followers. On January 8, after Thuan posted content criticizing the government, he received a notice from Facebook that “due to legal requirements” in Vietnam, his account would be “restricted in access.”
In the weeks leading up to his conversation with The Guardian, Thuan openly wrote on Facebook about the conflict of interest in land management in Dong Tam. More specifically, he predicted an imminent persecution. Two days later, about 3,000 policemen raided Dong Tam village at dawn and in a clash with villagers, three policemen and Mr. Le Dinh Kinh – the village’s spiritual leader – was killed.
Just eight months after the clash, the murder trial ruled. Le Dinh Kinh’s two sons were sentenced to death. Thuan’s Facebook account is still restricted all the time and is only unlocked a few days after the trial ends.
Carl Thayer, professor emeritus at the University of New South Wales Canberra, an expert on Southeast Asia, told The Guardian that since Vietnam started to implement the Law on Cyber Security in 2019 there has been “a clear increase markedly arresting and adjudicating Vietnamese people expressing their views on a number of social issues, especially corruption and the environment, on social media.”
“Most of the arrests are indirectly related to the upcoming National Communist Party Congress [in January]”, The Guardian quoted Professor Carl Thayer.
“In other words,” said Mr. Carl Thayer, “the arrests are part of the process of continuing to quell disagreements over sensitive social issues and prevent others from following suit. Arrests will spike in the coming months as the convention approaches.”