Thursday, November 8, 2012

Open Letter to His Excellency Ngo Anh Dung, Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia, calling for the guilty verdict in the case of two imprisoned Vietnamese songwriters to be overturned

Dear Ambassador,

The undersigned would like to express grave concern regarding the case of Vietnamese songwriters, Vo Minh Tri and Tran Vu Anh Binh, who were sentenced to four and six years imprisonment, respectively, on 30 October, for allegedly posting songs on a website operated by an overseas Vietnamese opposition group, Patriotic Youth. Vo Minh Tri, aged 34, has composed songs criticizing the government for not taking a more aggressive position against China in the South China Sea dispute.  Tran Vu Anh Binh, aged 37, is credited with composing a song that encourages peaceful protest and expresses support for imprisoned blogger, Nguyen Van Hai. This guilty verdict comes only one month after three Vietnamese bloggers, including Nguyen Van Hai, were sentenced to between 4 and 12 years in prison on 24 September 2012, on allegations of posting political articles on a banned website called Free Journalists' Club, as well as articles critical of the government on their own blogs. The bloggers were charged under Article 88 of the Penal Code for “conducting propaganda against the state”, the same charge brought against the two musicians. 

The sentencing of Vo Minh Tri and Tran Vu Anh Binh as a result of their artistic expression and their roles in disseminating information and opinion to the Vietnamese people is in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of information. Both rights are protected under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the “ICCPR”) to which Vietnam is a state party, and under Article 69 of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (the “Constitution”), which guarantees the freedoms of opinion, speech, press and the right to be informed. 

On 6 July 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council (the “UNHRC”) adopted a new resolution on The Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet. The purpose of the resolution is to affirm that human rights and freedoms also apply online. Judicial harassment of free speech activists in Vietnam who use the internet as a medium, contravenes international trends to protect online freedoms and to promote social media as a means of healthy debate. Also contrary to international trends is the Vietnamese government’s intention to adopt a new Decree on Management, Provision, and Use of Internet Services and Information on the Network, which will strengthen the apparatus to censor and criminalize online expression. The Vietnamese government plans to put forward its candidacy for a position on the UNHRC in 2014.

Despite strict censorship, Vietnamese songwriters have been relatively free in recent decades. The guilty verdict handed down to Vo Minh Tri and Tran Vu Anh Binh is believed to be linked to the wide dissemination of their songs over the internet. The crackdown on online expression in Vietnam is part of a worrying regional trend towards strict Internet censorship. The Royal Government of Cambodia recently announced the planned adoption of a Cyber Law to prevent the ‘spreading of false information’ while Thailand’s restrictive law, the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, takes harsh measures to prevent the distribution of ‘prohibited’ information online.   

To demonstrate commitment to freedom of expression, information and online freedoms, the undersigned call upon your Embassy to do all in its power to have the verdict in this case overturned and to have the two musicians immediately and unconditionally released, in accordance with international and Vietnamese domestic law.

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