Article 19– International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
In the US, media affects many aspects of our daily lives. We check our Twitter feeds as we get our breakfast ready. We listen to NPR on the way to work. We hear the soft buzz of the television on around us in the office, at the doctor, or while getting an oil change. In school, we learn about the printing press, free speech champions, and news reports from foreign wars. As we go through life, we see how the media shapes the defining moments of our generations and muse about how technology will change the press moving forward.
We are constantly surrounded by information—politics, weather, sports, gardening tips, and top ten lists galore. We have a variety of sources to choose from, instant access to breaking news, and the ability to take our news with us wherever we go. We also have the ability to be a part of the news reporting process by working for organizations we believe in, writing blog posts, and sharing our opinions on social media. In short, freedom of speech and of the press have a special place in our society (thanks in part to our First Amendment).
There is a thriving media scene in the US that is able to report on everything from corruption and controversy to celebrity scandals. Though the right to free speech in the US has some limitations (and the US is by no means perfect when it comes to having a free press), it is a fiercely protected and respected freedom. In Vietnam, on the other hand, the state runs all media outlets and decides what is and is not appropriate for public news consumption. Reporting on corruption is taboo, and criticizing the Communist Party is often considered crime. Newspaper journalists and independent bloggers alike that dare to speak their mind must live in fear of harassment or arrest and prosecution under oppressive laws like Article 88.
Censorship of the press is a real threat in many nations today, and it is particularly disconcerting in a nation like Vietnam, where remedying human rights violations is taking a back seat to implementing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a similar trade agreement with the EU. These trade agreements reward Vietnam for economic growth while ignoring its poor treatment of activists, minorities, laborers, religious peoples, and the environment. Thankfully, a bipartisan group of US Representatives has recently introduced a bill that would make certain assistance to Vietnam continent upon human rights improvements. This kind of progress is greatly welcomed but will still not be enough to protect the vulnerable populations and places in Vietnam. US action must be coupled with international action and action on the part of the Vietnamese government to release dissidents, lessen press restrictions, and repeal oppressive parts of its Penal Code.
Today, on World Press Freedom Day, we must remember that for many people around the world, freedom of speech is still far from secured. In some cases, speaking out can jeopardize your career, your family, or even your life. Today, and every day, I salute the free speech and free press advocates of all corners of the globe for their work to protect one of the most fundamental human rights of all—the right to peacefully express yourself in a public forum. For it is only with free voices that we are able to protest police brutality, educate our communities about world events, take a stand against climate change, and so much more.
Thank you, free speech and free press heroes, for your willingness to protect the human voice and for the sacrifices you have made in doing so. Your work is not in vain.
Vietnamese Freedom of Expression Heroes Currently In Prison:*
Reporters Without Borders Reports in its 2015 Press Freedom Barometer that there are currently two journalists in prison in Vietnam and 27 netizens (tied with Iran for the second highest amount of any country). They are–
Hoang Khuong (Nguyen Van Khuong), Vu Duc Trung, Hong Le Tho, Nguyen Huu Vinh (Ba Sam), Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, Bui Thi Minh Hang, Ngo Hao, Truong Duy Nhat, Le Quoc Quan, Dinh Nguyen Kha, Le Thanh Tung, Tran Vu Anh Binh, Ta Phong Tan, Tran Minh Nhat, Thai Van Dung, Nguyen Van Duyet, Nong Hung Anh, Paulus Le Son, Tran Huu Duc, Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Van Oai, Nguyen Van Ly, Nguyen Cong Chinh, Nguyen Ngoc Cuong, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, and Nguyen Kim Nhan.
Take action for these and other activists. Click here to learn more about how you can help.
*This list is by no means exhaustive, and The 88 Project values the work done to protect freedom of expression and other human rights by all Vietnamese and global activists, whether in prison or not.