Given the recent violent clashes between citizens and police in Vietnam, the proposed ban on audio and video recording devices, and arrests of several prominent bloggers so far in 2017, it may come as little surprise that Vietnam ranks 175 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’s (RSF) newly-released 2017 World Press Freedom Index. China is one spot worse, at 176.
The two countries, ranked mere spots from the bottom, were ranked at the exact same positions last year, suggesting that the situation for journalists, bloggers, media outlets, and others is not improving. RSF has also noted that Vietnam is the “world’s second biggest prison for citizen journalists.” China comes in at the top. The Asia-Pacific region overall ranks as third worst region for press freedom on the 2017 index.
The report asserts that world democracies are reaching a “tipping point” where restriction on press freedom leaves much else at stake. According to the report analysis, press freedom has never been more at risk than it is now. Below, a quote from RSF:
“The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Where will this downward spiral take us?”
As of December 1, 2016, the Committee to Protect Journalists reports that there are eight journalists in prison in Vietnam. They are: Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Huu Vinh (Anh Ba Sam), Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Me Nam), Ho Van Hai, and Dang Xuan Dieu. Dang Xuan Dieu was released from prison in January 2017 but forced into exile. Many others– including members of religious groups, land rights activists, and human rights advocates– are also in prison.
On March 3, 2017, Vu Quang Thuan (Vo Phu Dong) and Nguyen Van Dien (Dien Ai Quoc) were arrested for their YouTube videos. Just two weeks later, bloggers Bui Hieu Vo and Phan Kim Khanh were arrested under Article 88, a criminal provision often used to target and silence activists for “propaganda against the state.” This month, the Vietnamese government also announced that blogger Nguyen Van Hoa will be prosecuted under Article 258 (“abusing democratic freedoms”), following his arrest in January 2017.
Another report, out this week, the US Committee on International Religious Freedom’s 2017 Annual Report, ranks Vietnam as a Tier 1 Country of Particular Concern. The report says that Vietnam has made some progress at a national level, but it is yet to be seen how it will implement its new Law on Belief and Religion, which goes into effect in 2018. Concerns also still remain over the treatment of religious minorities, and several religious activists experienced physical violence and harassment in 2016. USCRIF states:
“The Vietnamese government regularly targets certain individuals and groups because of their faith, ethnicity, advocacy for democracy, human rights, or religious freedom, historic ties to the West, or desire to remain independent of Communist government control (p. 116).”
These reports combine to show a dark picture of life for bloggers and journalists, as well as human rights defenders in general, in Vietnam. The question remains as to whether these trends will persist in 2017 or if domestic or international forces can push for stronger press and religious freedom in Vietnam and the region.