Vietnam seems more modern today. One sees the booming tourist industry, restaurants that export a unique cuisine, supermarkets brimming with Vietnamese rice and bamboo sprouts, and a diaspora that seem to be more than averagely entreprenuring. Yet one easily may forget that the country is still a one party state, and in many ways a dicatorship. Behind the tales of a surging economic growth for this ASEAN-member state, there lies deep infringements to the freedom of speech. All overt critisising of the government is to be crushed and silenced.
In recent times the crack down on activism has sped up and according to Human Rights Watch at least 129 people are currently detained in Viestnam for having shown open criticism of the regime. The deputy head of Human rights watch Asia told the Guardian that " The authorities are getting bolder..(....)...I think the Vietnam government feels that the US and other countries are busy somewhere else and this gives them ample running room to crack down on the dissidents the way they have wanted to in the past." One of dissidents that were cracked down is a blogger going under the name of "Mother mushroom". This 38 year old lady started a blog in 2006 focussing on environmental problems, social injustice and politics. She created a nationwide stirr when she wrote about the hazards of a bauxite mining area in the Central Highlands of the country. She is internationally renowned and has among others won the Woman of Courage prize of the US state department. Now she is in jail, sentenced to ten years after a one day trial in a provincial courtroom. The purported reason was that she had been distributing propaganda against the state.
Many other artists and writers are activists in Vietnam. Among them is Mai Khoi, a woman who shows the paradoxical condition of Vietnam. As a pop singer who also performs abroad, she is also known for her sharp comments on the regime in Vietnam. When Donald Trump was visiting Hanoi in November of 2017, Khoi was among the activists protesting. She went around with a banner saying "Is Peace on You, Trump". For that she was put under a curfew. This incident betrays the irony of how a so called communist state interrs its own citizens to defend free market relations with the USA. Clearly times have changed.
Khoi is a hugely successful singer in Vietnam. Many people have called her the Lady Gaga of Vietnam due to her provocative and challenging style. One of her songs is called "P lease Mr President" in which Khoi tries to convince the president to grant more freedom and rights to his people. Clearly, notany General or Chairman´s cup of tea.
In March this year she returned from a European tour back home. Upon arrival she was detained by agents at the airport, and interrogated for 8 hours. Pathetically, they let her og but had to confiscate all the copies she carried of her newest album called "Dissent". Her new band is called "the Dissenters" . Khoi wrote a status on Facebook shortly after telling about the incident and giving a link where the new record is available online. So much for any old fashioned confiscating! The incident shows how the weapons of artists and ordinary folk have grown outside the reach of authorities seeking control. It also shows how an artist can actually create PR for product out an episode of government persecution.
- Minati Bye