Ta Phong Tan, a 47-year-old blogger from Vietnam, was released this week after being locked behind bars for blogging about police and judiciary corruption in the Communist country.
Terry White, Public Affairs Officer of the US embassy in Hanoi, called on the Vietnamese leadership to release other political prisoners in the country and to allow the Vietnamese to “express their political views without fear of retribution”. He further stated:
“We welcome the decision by Vietnamese authorities to release Ta Phong Tan, who decided to travel to the United States after her release from prison”
Ta Phong Tan, a former police officer, has run a successful political blog, vastly critical of the Communist Party ruling the country. On her blog, she shed light on corruption and human rights abuse in the Vietnamese police force and in the country’s judiciary system.
The prominent blogger was convicted in a joint trial with another two bloggers, all received sentences of up to 12 years in prison. Reuters reports that one of the convicted bloggers, Nguyen Van Hai, has also fled to the U.S. after his early release in October 2014.
Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, regarded Ta Phong Tan’s escape to the US as a “forced exile” by the Vietnamese authorities and a reflection of the “tightening of political control” by the country:
“This release continues Vietnam’s cynical practice of releasing high profile dissidents from prison directly into forced exile, with immediate departure from the country being the price of their freedom”
Freedom House reports that the ruling Communist Party controls all print and broadcast media, while actively persecuting critics by means of arrest and legal prosecution. In January 2014, Decree 174 was put into effect in the country, stating harsh penalties for spreading “anti-state propaganda” or “reactionary ideologies” on social media sites.
Censorship thrives in Vietnam, as “Reactionary” websites are routinely being censored and private bloggers are required to “submit their content for official approval”:
“Internet cafés must register the personal information of users and record the sites they visit. Internet service providers face fines and closure for violating censorship rules. In addition, in 2014 it was revealed that the government employs roughly 1,000 “public opinion shapers”: bloggers whose job it is to shut down Facebook accounts of government critics and to disseminate favorable state propaganda through social media”
According to the Freedom House report of 2014, Vietnam’s status on freedom of the net is “Not Free”. It is reported that political and social content is being blocked, bloggers and social media users are arrested and the press is not free. According to the report, at least 31 bloggers have been held behind bars in 2014, marking it “one of the world’s worst jailers of netizens”.