Vietnam has a spotty record of human rights violations, according to Human Rights Watch, which accused the government of systematically suppressing freedom of expression, association, and of peaceful assembly.
“Independent writers, bloggers, and rights activists who question government policies, expose official corruption, or call for democratic alternatives to one-party rule are routinely subject to police harassment and intrusive surveillance, detained incommunicado for long periods of time without access to legal counsel, and sentenced to increasingly long terms in prison for violating vague national security laws,” according to a 2012 HRW report.
When writers Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai, and Ta Phong Tan were charged last week with “propaganda against the state” it put renewed spotlight on Vietnam's treatment of those who speak out against the government – and on how far the US is willing to push Vietnam on reform. [ Editors note: The original version of this story stated incorrectly that the bloggers were arrested].
State-run Thanh Nien newspaper said that the bloggers posted 421 articles on the Independent Journalists’ Club website between September 2007 and October 2010 and were “distorting the truth, denigrating the party and state.”
Hanoi-based lawyer Le Quoc Quan works closely with some of Vietnam's hard-pressed pro-democracy activists. He estimates that Vietnam holds between 300 and 600 political prisoners, a category not recognized by the government. He told the Monitor that the three detained writers “did nothing but express their freedom of press.”
News media in Vietnam is state-run, but the Web has offered alternative voices a chance to write – often anonymously – about usually off-limits issues such as relations with China and political reform.