Sometimes in Vietnam it pays to keep your mouth (or blog) shut.
Last month, a Vietnamese court sentenced three bloggers to between 4 and 12 years in prison for allegedly troubling citizens and trying to overthrow the Communist government.
You’d think with debt scandals, a slowing economy and inflation expected to top 7% this year, the regime would have bigger fish to fry. But the blogosphere’s increasingly bold criticism of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and others must sting.
The harsh court ruling drew international protest from human rights and free speech advocates. Wire services and foreign media picked up on the story, with The Economist in particular drilling down into the tale.
But at home, the incident was all but swept under the carpet. Though a report initially (and briefly) appeared in the Vietnam News newsfeed, it quickly disappeared from the site. Stories leading up to the trial can still be found on VietnamNet.vn.
In place of any in-depth news reporting on the trial is a chiding editorial that Vietnam News published titled “VN bloggers told to stick to ethical code.” The piece suggests Vietnamese bloggers shouldn’t do what the arrested bloggers did: Violate the laws and observe civic responsibility.
Are we in any position to say that the three bloggers observed civic responsibility? No, not really – we’re not Vietnamese citizens. But we can say that it’s absurd that bloggers are subject to a false sense of free speech.