On June 23rd 2022, Phan Huu Diep Anh, a Facebook user living in Ho Chi Minh City, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on State and individuals’ legitimate rights and interests,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, state media reported.
The Vietnamese government continues to suppress the media’s freedom of speech and individual citizens. Recently the Vietnamese government imprisoned a Facebook user for two years for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the State and individuals’ legitimate rights.” The state government cites Article 331 of the penal code as the grounds for conviction. This sentencing is characteristic of the Vietnamese government as they continue to silence all media opposing the Communist Party ideology. To understand how the current civil rights crisis was established in Vietnam, we must delve into the history of Vietnam.
Vietnam was a part of the Indochina territory owned by France until 1945. The territory dissolved into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Civil war ensued, North Vietnam prevailed, and the territory was renamed the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. South Vietnam was Quai-democratic, so its downfall hindered the spread of democracy in Vietnam. Vietnam’s tumultuous past creates a unique cultural climate. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established in 1976 following the Vietnam war. In Nov of 2016, Vietnam’s president enacted a constitution that established the rights of citizens. The Vietnamese constitution grants freedom of speech and freedom of the press. However, this is implemented at the state’s discretion, allowing the Communist Party to suppress criticism, protests, and independent media. Various articles contained in the constitution outline the restrictions on freedom of speech. Article 117 – the crime of conducting propaganda against the state, and Article 156 – defamation, covers egregious uses of speech. The government’s gross overuse of these articles has created a human rights crisis. Vietnam’s Freedom House score is indicative of this, giving Vietnam a 19/100 global freedom score. Citing access to information, limiting content, and user rights violations are the most significant factors suppressing freedom of speech.
Citizens: The Government is prosecuting independent reporters and average citizens who speak out against them. Options for non-government media are limited, so citizens rely on social media for reliable information. This significantly increases the importance of independent reporters. The government recognizes this and has imprisoned countless reporters for exercising their rights.
Government: The government is more concerned with keeping the appearance of a democratic state through legislation, press releases, and diplomatic endeavors. Oppression of speech is embedded in the constitution, and the recent ratification of Article 331 broadens the government’s control over speech. Article 331 reads as follows:
Article 331. Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, lawful rights, and interests of organizations and/or citizens
1. Any person who abuses the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, lawful rights, and interests of organizations and/or citizens shall receive a warning or face a penalty of up to 3 years of community sentence or 6 – 36 months in prison.
2. If the offense has a negative impact on social security, order, or safety, the offender shall face a penalty of 2-7 years in prison.
The vague wording in Article 331 has enabled the courts to prosecute anything they deem abuses of freedom of speech, resulting in a crackdown on political advocates, independent journalists, and ordinary citizens being imprisoned for executing the rights granted to them according to the constitution. The Vietnamese government implements no distinction between literary speech and political speech, allowing them the authority to control all speech. As a result, literary speech in Vietnam is limited to political speech.
Political party: The Communist Party of Vietnam is the only political party led by Nguyễn Phú Trọng.
The current situation in Vietnam remains tense between the communist party and its citizens. There have been numerous democratic movements in Vietnam, most notable being the Bauxite crisis and the No- U Movement. Technology has become a vital source of independent information and a place that is heavily monitored by the public. The article that inspired this post involves an ordinary man who posted critiquing the government on his Facebook page and was swiftly arrested and charged per article 331; This is not a unique story. Freedom House gives Vietnam a 19/100 global freedom score. Citing access to information, limits on content, and user rights violations as the most significant factors suppressing freedom of speech. Despite blatant disregard for human rights, Vietnam earned a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Despite what the communist party may say, Vietnam’s government and tumultuous history make steps toward democracy unlikely.
- “The Current Situation in Vietnam.” United States Institute of Peace, 30 Sept. 2022, https://www.usip.org/publications/2022/04/current-situation-vietnam.
- Kerkvliet, Benedict J. Speaking out in Vietnam: Public Political Criticism in a Communist Party-Ruled Nation. Cornell University Press, 2019.
- McCauley, Brian, et al. “Facebook in Vietnam: Uses, Gratifications & Narcissism.” Open Journal of Social Sciences, Scientific Research Publishing, 25 Nov. 2016, https://www.scirp.org/journal/paperinformation.aspx?paperid=72343.
- Smith, Craig R. “Silencing the Opposition: How the U.S. Government Suppressed Freedom of Expression during Major Crises.” Choice Reviews Online, vol. 49, no. 02, 2011, https://doi.org/10.5860/choice.49-1078.
- Tran, Richard Quang-Anh. “Banishing the Poets: Reflections on Free Speech and Literary Censorship in Vietnam.” Philosophy & Social Criticism, vol. 48, no. 4, 2022, pp. 603–618., https://doi.org/10.1177/01914537211073626.
- “Vietnam: Freedom on the Net 2022 Country Report.” Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/country/vietnam/freedom-net/2022.
- “World Report 2022: Rights Trends in Vietnam.” Human Rights Watch, 15 Mar. 2022, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2022/country-chapters/vietnam#f81d60.