Journalist punished for comments on Fidel Castro

Fidel eating lunch on a visit to Vietnam in 1995. Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/ AFP.

Fidel eating rice on a visit to Vietnam in 1995. Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/ AFP.

A journalist was dismissed from his post for criticising Fidel Castro, as the Vietnamese Communist party held a day of national mourning for the Cuban revolutionary and dictator, who died last month.

Phung Hieu was removed from his job as Ho Chi Minh City correspondent for the agency, Nha Bao & Cong Luan (Journalists and Public Opinion) after posting negative comments about Castro on his Facebook page.

He said that 50 years of Marxism and dictatorship had left Cuba impoverished, a view echoed by a number of independent bloggers but at odds with the Communist party’s eulogies for a long time ally.

Black ribboned flags flew at half mast from government buildings on Sunday and orders were sent out to cancel entertainment activities, as the authorities mandated a day of mourning for Castro.

“Let me burn an incense for you, Fidel Castro, and say congratulations to your people who are going to move on to a new period in their life,” wrote Hieu on his Facebook page after returning from an evening drinking with friends.

“After almost 50 years ruling the country of Cuba with dictatorship and Marxist dogmatism, he left Cuba a poor and backward country with old, Soviet-style Ladas and black and white televisions,” he went on.

Naive condolences

Communist party leaders have hailed Castro as a great revolutionary and friend of the Vietnamese people. They recalled his visit to the front-line in Quang Tri during the Vietnam War in 1973 and his role as an ally against the United States at the height of the Cold War.

“In recent few days, the media and the people in my country keep naively expressing our condolences and grief over your death without having any pity for a nation which has been lost in poverty, retrograde and isolated, and which has lost freedom rights and equality,” wrote Hieu in his post.

“It’s fortunate that your younger brother realised it and acted quickly enough to revive the country and gradually take it out of the dark. Hopefully after your death, the Cuban people will find themselves integrated in the progressive world,” he said.

Retribution from the authorities was swift.

Phung Hieu was ordered by his editors to remove the status two days after he had posted it, but that appears to have been too late for the masters of state propaganda.

Reports say the case was reviewed at a weekly meeting, on December 1, of newspaper editors and officials from the ministry of information and the registered association of journalists.

“I only spoke the truth”

Hieu, according to reports, was accused of using offensive and satirical language, showing a lack of political acumen, and expressing wrongful opinions about the Cuban leader.

Officials were reported to have demanded stern punishment for the offending journalist.

Hieu was removed from his position as Ho Chi Minh City bureau chief, with a subsequent cut in salary.

His editor-in-chief, Nguyen Ngoc Nien, was also criticised and suspended from his post for one month.

Phung Hieu was later quoted as saying, “I only spoke the truth.”

He added, “Ten years of working as a journalist is more than enough. No one buys my newspaper while I, as the representative in Saigon, must move heaven and earth to make ends meet. I feel so ashamed whenever I have to meet entrepreneurs and offer to carry their advertisements. That’s enough. I will take this as a chance to quit the job.”

Phung Hieu is not the first journalist to get into trouble for posts on his Facebook page. Last September, Do Dung, a senior journalist working for the Thanh Nien (Youth), was dismissed from his job after he posted a satirical column about Ho Chi Minh and other Vietnamese revolutionary leaders.