Now in her twenties, Huynh Thuc Vy knows all about oppression. Her father Huynh Ngoc Tuan is a dissident who spent 10 years in prison for his writing. Vy herself, for blogging about democracy, human rights and police brutality, has heavily slapped with ruinous fines for “propaganda.” She has been detained by the police several times for her advocacy. In 2012, Vy and her father won the Hellman/Hammett grant for persecuted writers from Human Rights Watch. When her brother attempted to travel to the U.S. to receive the awards on their behalf, he was stopped at the airport and his passport was confiscated. Vy spoke to Vietnamrightnow.com via Internet.
VNRN: Police and security forces are continually harassing your family. What do you think is the reason they’re targeting your family?
Huynh Thuc Vy: It’s not just my family. Communist security forces are targeting all of the activists. Every person who speaks out for truth and justice is dealing a blow to the dictatorship, and so, being on the receiving end of vengeful oppression by the government is an obvious risk that one has to accept.
Still, there is a difference between our family and other dissidents, and that is there are three members of our family who speak out, so the number of times and the degree of harassment is also higher. Also, before, we were just writing, and the government does not fear that; but recently, we tried to contact other activists because we became aware of how important these connections are. The government does not want that at all, so they wanted us to stop.
Ten years of prison and illnesses still lingering from the time in prison have made my father very tired, and recently he was beaten and they broke his bone so my father needs to rest. But the rest of us are young, we have to contribute to the common good and I always think that what we’re doing is just to protect the truth and human dignity.
VNRN: The Vietnamese Communist Party has 3 million members. Why do you think they need to put a lot of effort into silencing bloggers when their blog entries would net only a few tens of thousand readers?
Huynh Thuc Vy: If you think about the cumulative impact that multiplies up the value of information on the Internet, you wouldn’t be so surprised at the government’s oppression. In the past, back when there was no global network of information, how many people dared to discuss corruption, even when talking among friends? Now, many people, though not all of them activists, openly discuss freedom and democracy on social networks.
The Communist Party may have a large number of members, these people, with their tired old dogmatic arguments, cannot convince people of the legitimacy of the dictatorship regime; and furthermore, Communist Party members are just a privileged class whose interests go against those of the majority in poverty. Know that, the government specially trains a massive force of propagandists on the Internet. Personally I even suspect that there are propagandists pretending to be activists just to steer public opinion. An authoritarian government has the financial means that they take from national resources, so they can buy off anyone they want so they can use them to speak up when necessary.
VNRN: The Vietnamese government usually argues that freedom of expression and political rights are not as important as economic development, and often insinuates that freedom even harms development. What’s your opinion on that?
Huynh Thuc Vy: I don’t know what they’re insinuating, but in reality all their arguments are only illogical fallacies trying to shore up the entrenchment of the regime, rather than that they actually think it. Many government officials when faced with hard questions would say things that just make you laugh, it’s as if they don’t even know what they’re saying.
The communists always try to downgrade humans to the level of animals, as if material needs were more important than the spiritual. When they deliberately highlight the importance of economics versus civil liberties and political freedoms, that’s in the same vein.
When you look at people’s needs however, for example if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the need for food and clothing is at the lowest level, the bottom of the pyramid, just like for animals. In reality, humans also have great spiritual needs, and if those needs cannot be or are not allowed to be satisfied, human lives will be no different from animal lives. People need space to express their energy and aspiration. Any government that crushes that aspiration is committing crimes against humanity.
VNRN: That’s a very incisive analysis. Let’s turn to a different area for our last question. How about the international community? Are concerns by other countries having an effect on human rights in Vietnam? Can people living in foreign countries help activism in Vietnam?
Huynh Thuc Vy: When activists contact diplomats, parliament members in the West, international NGOs, etc., it is to highlight the deplorable human rights situation happening in Vietnam, using public diplomacy to give the world a realistic insight into the situation in Vietnam. The fact is, the West can only have limited effects on the human rights records of Vietnam. Because of national interest, through political bartering, sometimes they even have to turn a blind eye to the human rights records of many dictatorships in the world. That Vietnam was elected to the UN Human Rights Council is an example.
Overseas Vietnamese of course play a very important role in the struggle for democracy. But they can only provide support from afar, its’s the Vietnamese in the country that must carry out the work. All the efforts that the overseas Vietnamese communities are doing are very good and the rest of us in the country are very grateful for how much they care for the homeland. But I hope that the overseas Vietnamese community reach out to acitivists in the country in a more concrete and specific manner, and not let the media (even those on our side) gain too much influence. Sometimes, things seen through the prism of the media may not be exactly the same as reality, though not necessarily wrong.