With Social Media, Vietnam’s Dissidents Grow Bolder Despite Crackdown

Nguyen Anh Tuan, a human rights activist, said that when police interrogated him in 2011, he had no one to turn to. But now with supporters on Facebook, “I cannot feel lonely anymore,” he said. Credit Quinn Ryan Mattingly for The New York Times

HANOI, Vietnam (NY Times, July 4,2017): — A prominent blogger and environmental activist in Vietnam was sentenced last week to 10 years in prison on charges of national security offenses, including sharing anti-state propaganda on social media.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known by her online handle Mother Mushroom, had been held incommunicado since she was arrested in October, and attendance at her trial was strictly controlled.

But barely one hour after the verdict was handed down on Thursday, one of Ms. Quynh’s lawyers summarized his arguments and posted her final statement at the trial to his 61,000 Facebook followers.

“I hope that everyone will speak up and fight, overcome their own fears to build a better country,” she said, according to the lawyer. The statement was reposted thousands of times.

In authoritarian Vietnam, the internet has become the de facto forum for the country’s growing number of dissenting voices. Facebook connections in particular have mobilized opposition to government policies; they played a key role in mass protests against the state’s handling of an environmental disaster last year. Now, the government is tightening its grip on the internet, arresting and threatening bloggers, and pressing Facebook and YouTube to censor what appears on their sites.

“Facebook is being used as an organizing tool, as a self-publishing platform, as a monitoring device for people when they are being detained and when they get released,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

Facebook is being used “to connect communities that otherwise wouldn’t be connected,” he said.

Nguyen Anh Tuan, 27, a pro-democracy activist, said the growing number of dissidents forging connections through social media had emboldened him.

The first time the police interrogated him in 2011, he said, he felt utterly alone. His parents and friends disapproved of his political writings, and he knew few other people he could turn to for help.

Mr. Tuan still faces police harassment and his passport has been confiscated. But the most recent time he was called in for questioning, he posted a copy of the summons to Facebook, along with a satirical note demanding to be paid for the time he spent in custody.

His note went viral, and other people followed suit, posting their own police summonses on Facebook and asking for compensation. “Regarding activism, I cannot feel lonely anymore,” he said.

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