Reporters Without Borders condemns the Vietnamese public security ministry’s decision to prevent the well-known blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh from travelling abroad.
Winner of the 2013 Netizen Prize, which Reporters Without Borders awards annually with support from Google, Chenh and his daughter were stopped at Ho Chi Minh City airport as they were about to board a flight to the United States on 10 May.
Reporters Without Borders regards the travel ban as a reprisal for Chenh’s blogging and staunch defence of freedom of expression. His influence as a blogger is growing both within Vietnam as well as internationally and the Netizen Prize is thought to have played a role in the decision to impose the ban.
Chenh’s blog is very popular in Vietnam although it is blocked by the authorities and can be accessed only by using censorship circumvention software. Reporters Without Borders has described it as “an example to follow” in a country where freedom of information is openly flouted.
When awarded the Netizen Prize on World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, Chenh said in a phone call from Vietnam: “This award represents a great deal for me. It is a new source of inspiration. It is also and above all a reward and sign of hope for bloggers and independent journalists in Vietnam, and all those who are being denied their right to freedom of expression.”
He added: “The international community’s support will give us more courage to continue our struggle for freedom of information. It will help all of us to overcome our fears and speak more freely.”
Chenh’s international travel ban is not isolated. Several bloggers were prevented from travelling abroad last year. They included Nguoi Buon Gio, J.B. Nguyen Huu Vinh, Huynh Ngoc Tuan and Tuan’s son, Huynh Trong Hieu, who was to have travelled to the United States to accept Human Rights Watch’s Hellman Hemmett Prize on behalf of his father.
“Many bloggers have, like me, been forbidden to leave the country, which is a human rights violation,” Gio told Reporters Without Borders. “Vague reasons are usually given for these bans such as national security, the reason given in my case. They are reprisals that the Vietnamese authorities use with bloggers they don’t like. The bans just reinforce the feeling that a blog to press for more rights is essential.”
Vietnam is the world’s second biggest prison for netizens, with a total of 31 currently detained. Bloggers and other news providers regarded as too outspoken are hounded by the Communist Party, forced to censor themselves or jailed.
Recent examples include the use of police violence against participants in “human rights picnics” on 5 May and the record jail terms imposed on bloggers such as Dieu Cay and Ta Phong Tan, who were sentenced on appeal on 28 December to 12 and 10 years in prison followed by five years of house arrest.
Vietnam is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet” and has been ranked 172nd out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index for the past two years.