FRIDAY 22 MARCH 2013 – In an article published online on 14 March, the Vietnamese daily Nhan Dan criticized the fact that the 2013 Reporters Without Borders Netizen Prize was awarded to the Vietnamese citizen-journalist and blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh.
Like his compatriots Ta Phong Tan and Nguyen Hoang Vi, Chenh was singled out for his defence of freedom of the media and information in Vietnam and for the courage he showed in using his website for the free and constructive expression of diverse opinions about political and social issues in his country.
This is Reporters Without Borders’ response to the various criticisms and comments expressed in the Nhan Dan article:
We are surprised by the contradictory position that the article takes on the very idea of international organizations awarding prizes. It talks of “national pride” in connection with certain international awards but describes those that do not meet with its approval as “political interference.”
This comment reflects what seems to be Nhan Dan’s leading concern. According to the article, “the country’s image” is more important than the positive effect of blogs that win international awards, the information they help to provide to the Vietnamese people, their presentation of a political vision different from the party’s, and a public democratic debate online, which would not have existed if all the space for expression and information had been left to the country’s only permitted political party.
When they write about Vietnam’s political and social problems (which the Nhan Dan article does not try to deny), Chenh, Tan and Vi are not sullying Vietnam’s image. On the contrary, they are improving it and, above all, they are offering the hope that a society that is democratic, informed and free of arbitrary censorship and control of ideas may one day emerge in Vietnam.
There is no need to respond to far-fetched theories about an international coalition of media, NGOs and governments seeking at all costs to “sabotage the Vietnamese authorities.” But we would like to reiterate our vision of freedom of expression and information, two fundamental freedoms covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
These two freedoms include the right to criticize any political entity, the right to provide information about, and comment on, any event or situation, and the right to cover sensitive subjects such as bauxite mining, territorial disputes between Vietnam and China, and the actions the Vietnamese government takes on these issues.
In countries where media freedom is more or less respected, the media constantly criticize the authorities, make fun of them or turn them into objects of satire without being accused of trying to destabilize the country or overthrow, the government. This is even the case when they publish erroneous information about senior officials.
Those who legitimately try to use these rights in Vietnam risk being jailed for years. We deplore the criminalization of their activities and, in particular, the almost systematic use of article 88 of the criminal code against those who try to provide their fellow citizens with independent news and information.
By awarding the 2013 Netizen Prize to Chenh, we are also paying tribute to the courage of the 31 bloggers and citizen-journalists currently in prison and we are sending the message that freedom of information is much more important than any artificial “image of Vietnam” that the current authorities try to promote.
In the long run, it is defence of this freedom that will contribute most to improving international respect for Vietnam. In the meantime, is there any hope that Nhan Dan will be allowed to publish this response?