I sit at my desk and write about human rights with ease, yet in Viet Nam, blogging can land you in prison. Last week, Vietnamese authorities convicted 14 activists for plotting to overthrow the government under article 79 of the criminal code. The sentences range from three to thirteen years. The activists were all linked to the US-based, pro-democracy group Viet Tan, which the Vietnamese government labels a terrorist organization. Five of the sentenced activists are bloggers who wrote about freedom of expression. Before the start of the trial, one of the bloggers, Dang Xuan Dieu, said, “I have done nothing contrary to my conscience” and that in punishing him, the government was “trampling on the eternal good morals of the Vietnamese nation.”
The defendants were all charged after attending a Viet Tan training course held in Bangkok in 2011. Viet Tan led a resistance movement in the 1980s, but has more recently called for democracy and peaceful change in Viet Nam. A spokesperson for the Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that none of the activists were alleged to have used violence.
Viet Nam has had a history of cracking down on activists who are trying to express themselves. In October 2012, a court convicted two musicians for “propagandizing against the state” merely for their political songs. The country is also getting stricter towards online dissenters. In September 2012, a Vietnamese court sentenced three bloggers to prison terms of four, ten and twelve years. The US Embassy in Viet Nam calls the sentencing of the fourteen activists “part of a disturbing human rights trend in Viet Nam.” The US has called on Viet Nam to release these prisoners and all prisoners of conscience.
The suppression of activists in Viet Nam is an alarming trend. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guarantees the freedom of expression. As a state party to the Covenant, Viet Nam must remember its international human rights obligations and protects its citizens who are guaranteed the right to expression.