Aussie link as Vietnam crackdown continues

WNAust03 May 2013 | By Greg Dyett.

As the Vietnamese government continues a crackdown on dissent, one man with alleged links to a group in Australia has gone to jail.

As the Vietnamese government continues a crackdown on dissent, it is facing a new challenge from activists at home and abroad who are using the internet to contact each other and voice their views.

But the web-based activity comes with a risk for the dissidents still living in Vietnam – with one man jailed in part for alleged links to an anti-Communist website based in Australia.

Greg Dyett reports.

Since late 2009, Vietnam’s Communist government has stepped up efforts to silence its critics.

Dozens of people have been convicted of anti-state activity, and jailed for up to 13 years.

Some of those jailed are members of Viet Tan, which is a group working both inside Vietnam and elsewhere that wants democratic reforms.

Vietnam’s Communist government considers Viet Tan a terrorist organisation.

Viet Tan’s representative in Australia is Doctor Phong Nguyen.

He says 30 million Vietnamese now have access to the internet which poses a challenge to the one-party state.

“So internet more or less act as a de facto free media where people get access to the true perspective of what actually is happening and they get to understand more and therefore I think helped them to realise that they deserve better particularly with a front of human right abuses and also social activism and political expression and so on.”

The Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, Brad Adams says growing levels of discontent among Vietnam’s population has resulted in more protests.

He says this in turn has led greater efforts to silence criticism – and more people being jailed.

“The economic miracle has started to crash land and there are huge problems with illegal takeovers of land, the country basically doesn’t have enough land for its population and there’s massive corruption and people are really fed up with seeing politicians and business people living five star lives while they’re leading very meagre lives and they don’t see much prospect for significant improvement in their lives. So they’re out their protesting and the government is basically trying to round up people they think are troublemakers, people who are ringleaders and putting them in prison as fast as they can because they feel like they’re under siege and they’re not sure how to deal with it any other way.”

A 30-year-old man has just been jailed in Vietnam for three years after he admitted he’d written eight articles which the authorities said had libelled the Communist Party.

According to evidence presented at his trial, some of the articles were published on the website of what was described as an Australian-based reactionary organisation.

The website is run by a man identified as Chau Xuan Nguyen, reportedly fled Vietnam in 1975 and who now lives in Melbourne.

He has not responded to interview requests from SBS.

Professor Doan Viet Hoat is a Vietnamese dissident who now lives in the United States.

He spent eight years in jail for publishing an underground newsletter in the late 1980s.

He told the ABC the internet has led to the creation of what he calls a virtual civil society that cannot be controlled.

“I think that there is a virtual civil society now the government and the dictators cannot control the virtual society although they try to block the blogs, they try to put in jail some of the bloggers but I don’t think they can control the virtual society.”

Brad Adams from Human Rights Watch says Australia should be more outspoken about human rights abuses in Vietnam.

He says the bilateral economic relationship would still flourish.

“Australia being a very strong democracy, having a good reputation in the region and having strong trade relations, should be extremely outspoken. I think one thing we’ve learned over the years is that it’s a myth that if governments are outspoken about human rights in places like Vietnam, China, Cambodia, other places in Asia that they’ll be penalised in trade relations, that is just not empirically true. The trade relations will go on because these are economic interests that apparently have mutual benefit and Australia should be really loud and clear and I’m afraid that Australia’s voice has been far too soft over the years in Vietnam.”

However, Brad Adams says the crackdown on dissidents in Vietnam could be related to a domestic issue that may be beyond any outside influence.

He says it could all be related to a split in the leadership of the Communist Party.

“The Prime Minister on the one hand and the President and the Secretary General of the Vietnamese Communist Party have openly split, There was even an attempt by supporters of the President and the Secretary General to get rid of the Prime Minister. It’s partly ideological, it’s partly about money, it’s partly about who’s going to survive in the leadership. So, what’s very easy is for hardliners is to take advantage of a situation like that and to start targeting dissidents to show their loyalty to one side or the other and I think we’ve seen a competition among various parts of the public security apparatus to curry favour with different segments of the political leadership in the Communist Party.”


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