Right of speech, press freedom and right of access to information are basic personal rights of citizens, which are articulated in the international conventions on human rights.

Human rights are clearly defined and outlined in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution.

Early this year, the website “Dan luan” (danluan.org) and some Western news agencies spread “a call for the rights to speak and listen to the truth”. The document was recognized by some illegal websites and signed by some individuals who were self-styled as “political dissidents”. Surprisingly, a number of websites based in the U.S., Canada and Australia as well as foreigners voiced support for that document, which, in fact, distorts the right of speech, the freedom of the press and Internet in Vietnam.

Photo for illustration. Source: govap.hochiminhcity.gov.vn

The document instances several criminal cases, in which the accused used social networks, particularly Facebook, for illegal purposes. Moreover, it claims that Vietnam should “omit” a number of provisions in Chapter 11 on National Security Crimes, such as Article 79 on attempts to overturn the people’s government, Article 88 on crimes to spread false information against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and Article 258 on the abuse of human rights and freedoms to violate the rights and interests of the State as well the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and citizens, of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code (still preserved in the 2015 Penal Code).

More ironically, some individuals asked for the restoration of “all the truth relating to the Mau Than historical event in 1968”.

The laws of Vietnam, which are similar to those of other countries, define both human rights and citizenship. Vietnam’s Constitution and other laws articulate the rights of speech and expression as well as freedom of the press and the Internet, including the people’s right to access social networks to exchange information, share their political views and social values in an explicit way. In fact, the State of Vietnam recognizes and considers social networks as good conditions for national development in all spheres.

According to the international social networks research organization Next Web, Vietnam is on the list of the 10 nations with the most numbers of Facebook users in the world. The number of Vietnamese Facebook users has reached 64 million or 3% of all of the world’s users of Facebook. Vietnamese Facebook users are free to post their thinking and upload pictures and video clips provided their acts do not breach the laws. Most Vietnamese have well understood this. Only a few among the 64 million Vietnamese Facebook users, like Ho Van Hai, Vu Quang Thuan and Hoang Duc Binh, who have purposefully violated the laws, have stood trial for their offences.

For instance, Ho Van Hai posted a number of articles on his blog and Facebook page, distorting and degrading the Party and State’s policies while Vu Quang Thuan and Nguyen Van Dien uploaded many video clips on the Internet, defaming the authorities and fabricating false stories. Meanwhile, Hoang Duc Binh was accused of “fighting on-duty officials” and “abusing human rights and freedoms to violate interests of the State and legitimate rights and interests of organizations and citizens” articulated in Articles 257 and 258 of the 1999 Penal Code when he led “non-violent” demonstrations for removal of the Formosa company, which resulted in terrible traffic congestion on the section of National Express 1A between Ha Tinh and Nghe An provinces in May 2017.

Another part of the above-mentioned document irrationally claims for the recovery of the “whole truth relating to the Mau Than event in 1968”. The authors must have deliberately forgotten the fact that the Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising in the beginning of 1968 was part of the military strategy of the Communist Party of Vietnam. It defeated military plans of the U.S. and U.S.-backed Saigon military forces, forced the U.S. and Saigon regime’s sides to return to peace negotiations in Paris, and created favorable conditions for the revolutionary forces to completely liberate the South and reunite the country in 1975.

If one is really compassionate to civilians “killed” (as the document writes) in the Mau Than General Offensive and Uprising in 1968, he/she should first light incense for millions of revolutionary civilians and troops who laid down their lives during the protracted war for national liberation, including those in the Mau Than 1968 General Offensive and Uprising, against the invaders and their followers.

Everyone should comprehend that the Party and State of Vietnam always respects, promotes and ensures human rights as human rights are the nature and main goal of the Vietnamese revolution.

Nevertheless, there were some mistakes in the period 1975-1986. In this period, leaders of Vietnam, who were more used to leading military forces in the battlefield rather than doing business, applied the old-style theory of socialism to build an old-pattern socio-economy of socialism. In fact, at that time, some human rights in economic and social spheres were restricted, and private ownership and market economy were abolished. 

However, since 1986, when the Party and State of Vietnam started an open-door policy with the aim of building a new socialist model, a rule-of-law socialist State and a socialist-oriented market economy, all basic human rights have been fully respected and ensured. 

For the first time in the nation’s history, the 2013 Constitution has one chapter (Chapter 2) articulating human rights and citizenships. The chapter defines not only all human rights and citizenships, but also the basic principles of these human rights. These include: 1. The principle of the relationship between the State and people, in which the State holds responsibilities and the people are the right holders; 2. The principles to limit rights in Article 14; and 3. The right of speech, freedom of the press, right of access to information, right to freedom of assembly and association, and the right to demonstration can be limited for the sake of national interests and social order in Article 25.

Over the past years, human rights and citizenships of Vietnamese people are not only defined well in the Constitution, but also ensured in the reality. Practices of civil and political rights are now better ensured.

In the practice of freedom of the press, Vietnamese people have access to 75 large international TV channels, besides various domestic TV channels and numerous news publications. As many as 20 large foreign news agencies have their permanent correspondents in the country. Particularly, the State of Vietnam encourages its people to use the Internet. 74 printed or electronic newspapers and magazines, 336 social networks and 1,170 websites have been licensed by the Vietnamese Government. Besides, Vietnamese people can read news from online editions of such leading news agencies and newspapers as AFP, AP, BBC, VOA, Reuters, Kyodo, Economist and Financial Times.

Looking at afore-mentioned figures, one can easily comprehend whether or not freedom of the press, freedom of speech and right of access to the internet are really “suffocated” as some self-called “political dissidents” often allege.

In 2016, the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam passed the Access to Information Law. It is a legal document that formalizes freedom of speech and freedom of the press articulated in the 2013 Constitution. As the law defines, access to information is a limited or conditional right. Article 6 of this law reads: “State secrecy, including important information about politics, defense, national security and foreign affairs…” or “the information, to which uncontrolled accession will threaten the State’s interests or will badly affect the country’s national defense, security, foreign affairs, social safety, social ethic values or public health.” Article 11 also stipulates prohibited acts, including “Deliberately providing wrong, false or insufficient information, delaying information, concealing or destroying information, fabricate information… providing or using information to smear the good reputation, dignity and prestige of, and to cause gender discrimination or loses of property to individuals and organizations”.

The law also defines the rights and obligations of citizens in accessing information. Accordingly, citizens have the right to be informed fully and on time, the right to send complaints, take legal proceedings or denounce legal violations on information accession. At the same time, citizens also have the obligations to comply with legal provisions on access to information, not to divert the supplied information, not to breach rights and legitimate interests in information accession of other individuals or organizations.

In the first decade of the 21st century, because many individuals and organizations violated national rights and interests as well as rights and interests of other individuals and organizations, the 2015 Penal Code was passed by the National Assembly with specific provisions to protect these legitimate rights and interests. Article 288 of the Penal Code clearly defines offences relating to illegal uses of cyber information and telecommunication networks. Accordingly, fines of up to billions of Vietnamese dong may be imposed on those who use electronic information as a tool to make illicit earnings or cause bad public opinions downgrading the prestige of agencies, organizations or individuals. Furthermore, people who post illegal information on social networks or telecommunication networks may also be granted a suspended sentence and forced to work for the public, or imprisoned from 6 months to 3 years for more serious crimes.

In recent times, quite a few have claimed that all people should have “unlimited rights” to use telecommunication, computer and social networks. They voiced ignorantly that people must have the right to post any information, including false, distorted information and State secrecy, on the Internet or telecommunication networks without any responsibility for their posted information.

Sadly, such a claim is included in the afore-mentioned document. 

In fact, unfriendly forces and the so-called “political dissidents” have produced and posted a large number of “declarations”, “announcements,” “open letters” on social networks, calling on agencies, organizations and leaders to “exercise a “full right” of access to the Internet. Their activities have demonstrated that they have been either legally ignorant or intentional in carrying out political tricks to distort the Party and State’s policies, skew the history of the Vietnamese Revolution and defame the country’s leaders.

It must be noted that only a handful of them really lack legal knowledge; but most of them well understand that their claims are irrational. They keep doing so because they want to undermine the close relationship between the Party and people, provoke national hostility, reduce the status and position of the country in the international arena, and damage relations between Vietnam and other countries and international organizations. In short, they are doing harm to the whole nation.

Comprehending their malicious plots and attempts, all Vietnamese people should further study Vietnamese laws, particularly legal documents on freedom of the press, freedom of speech and right of access to information while always putting on the alert against their distorted information on the Internet.

Written by Bac Ha

Translated by Bac Hoang