In an era wherein Vietnam has been moving ahead with aggressive social and economic reforms and has even
opened up the country to Facebook, it has been alarming to have received press reports that the Communists detained a Vietnamese human rights activist upon his return home from Bangkok. Radio Free Asia has covered this story, writing on Oct. 30, 2013, “Vietnamese Blogger Held on Return From Trip Abroad.”
Nguyen Lan Thang, who is an outspoken Vietnamese blogger, was detained at Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport upon his return home from a three-month visit to the Philippines and Thailand. While in these countries he met with U.N. human rights officials and advocacy and media groups, along with friends and fellow bloggers. Thang began blogging for RFA’s Vietnamese news service just last month. He told his friends by telephone that he had been taken into custody Wednesday night Vietnamese time as he arrived from Bangkok. He had predicted the previous day in a Facebook video message post that expected to be arrested in Vietnam.
Thang said in this video, “Hello my friends! When you see this video, it is certain I have been arrested by the security forces.” Thang has been an outspoken critic of Vietnam’s strict media controls. The Vietnamese airport authorities, along with immigration officials, have refused to give any information about Thang’s whereabouts or why he is being held. Thang is a resident of Hanoi with his wife, who is expected to have the couple’s first baby in a few months.
Thang met with U.N. human rights officials in Bangkok to report on rights violations in his home country.
On a side trip while visiting the Philippines, he joined other activists for a period of training with a civil society organization in a two-week 2013 Civil Society study program with rights organization Asian Bridge Philippines in Manila. Asian Bridge Philippines has blasted the Vietnamese government for this action, and has asked Hanoi to respect the “basic rights” of all Vietnamese “to freely travel and learn about the development of civil society in other nations in the region.”
Thang sent a video to RFA last month in which he spoke out against limits which Vietnamese authorities have placed on social media. He says those controls are placed on activists who expose politically sensitive issues such as land grabs and corruption in the one-party communist system in Vietnam. He has said, “Freedom of expression is one of the most important human rights. If it is restricted, social development will be distorted because there is no one to give feedback on public policies.”
The Vietnamese government claims accusations of this nature are simply anti-Communist propaganda. However, Reporters Without Borders, which is based in Paris, has ranked Vietnam 172nd out of 179 countries on its press freedom index. This group even goes as far as listing Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Without a concern for human rights we have no humanity on this planet. Sometimes to make this life worthwhile on this planet we must look beyond our own personal needs and reach out to help others. Buddhists worldwide and other human rights activists must stand behind Nguyen Lan Thang now and
request that Hanoi release him from custody. Confinement in a prison for a person dedicated to freedom for mankind is a particularly suffocating experience which could quickly drain him of his spirit to live.
Hanoi should be made aware the world body as always welcomes Vietnam into the international community and would welcome Vietnamese leadership in working for, instead of against, a protection of human rights for all people. An open Internet is a good place to begin working on such an initiative.