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Vietnam: Tale of Two Bloggers

Dinh Nhat Uy (Pic. courtesy RSF)

The power of social media and how repressive governments like Vietnam’s have grown to fear it was evident earlier this week. Blogger Dinh Nhat Uy was given a 15-month suspended sentence – which severely restricts movement – for criticising the government on Facebook, while Nguyen Lan Thang who was taken into custody at Hanoi airport and released a day later, posted the sequence of events, also on Facebook.
Media watchdogs say the real reason for sentencing Uy is because he campaigned for his brother, blogger Dinh Nguyen Kha, imprisoned for four years for anti-government propaganda. They point out that material on which Uy was convicted was four posts written in December 2012, although he was arrested only in June this year as the campaign to release of Kha began to gather momentum.

Uy was indicted under Section 258 of Vietnam’s criminal code for “abusing democratic freedoms against the interests of the state and the legitimate rights and interests of organisations and individuals.” Under the law, he could have been jailed for seven years. Uy’s conviction is the first against a blogger using Facebook.
“A new decree for governing the Internet that came into effect on September 1 restricts the types of content that foreign companies are allowed to host on their Vietnam-related websites or social media platforms,” said, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). It added that there is no information whether Facebook will be held accountable.
The Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) said, referring to Kah, that Uy’s sentence was an example of how family members of jailed dissidents were harassed by the authorities.
RSF also deplored Uy was not granted due process. “Like the denial of defence rights during Kha‘s appeal hearing, today’s presence of 400 plainclothes police in the courtroom to create the illusion of a public hearing and the harassment of Uy’s lawyers, which led one of them, Nguyen Thanh Luong, to withdraw from the case, highlight the bogus nature of these trials, whose outcome is decided in advance.”
Meanwhile, in what appears a mild response to the stiff prison sentences and other privations by which pro-democracy activists are usually punished, Nguyen Lan Thang was released after 24 hours in police custody. He recorded the event on Facebook with an almost lighthearted, “Too much taxpayer’s money has been spent on me since yesterday. My apologies to all of you.”
However, Thang seemed prepared to face arrest and detention at the airport when returning from a meeting with human rights activists abroad. Not only was there a group of activists to receive him, but they posted a message Thanng had recorded before he set out on his return journey to Vietnam.
“‘In a video message posted by activists soon after his detention at the Hanoi airport Wednesday night, Nguyen Lan Thang said, “When you see this video, it’s certain that I have been arrested by security forces,'” reported Associated Press (AP).
Thang’s use of the media to publicise the government’s violations are reminiscent of Ai Weiwei who once used the camera to record and social media to transmit the Chinese government destroying his studio.
AP said that non-violent activists are detained for a day or two but could also be ordered long prison sentences. It quoted Human Rights Watch that up to 61 dissidents had been convicted and handed down prison sentences – many for dissent via the internet – this year which was a significant increase from 40 in 2012.

A Facebook Post in Tunisia Leads to Arrest

Social networking has come to the rescue in recent months when journalists and citizens alike have attempted to get around censors to report the news. China and Iran did their best to censor sites like Twitter and Facebook in hopes of keeping citizens from organizing and protesting, and now, Tunisia has joined the list of countries giving added importance to social networking sites.

Earlier this year, a human rights activist in Tunisia posted a message to her Facebook page about the rumored kidnappings of children for their organs. The posted statement, which merely repeated a rumor that was already circulating, lead to the woman’s arrest on July 4th and an 8 month jail sentence for “disturbing public order”.

Khedija Arfaoui is a 69-year old academic and human rights activist who only found out about the charges against her when she came across the announcement in a newspaper on May 31st. According to the newspaper her trial would begin just a few days later on June 6th. She wasn’t formally notified until the day before the trial was set to begin.

Reporters Without Borders says that Tunisia so far has no laws regarding internet and her conviction has no legal standing. The crime of disturbing the public order for which she was accused is punishable by 6 months to 5 years in prison. It also refers only to public places whereas Facebook is regarded as a private space.