By definition, every nation has boundaries, including limits on free speech; you can say whatever you want on the Internet or elsewhere as long as you don’t break the law.
So it should be no surprise that Vietnam disagrees with a critical report issued this month by the US State Department as well as the European Parliament’s recent criticism of Vietnam’s record on free speech, press and association.
Yes, Vietnam has been putting pro-democracy bloggers in prison lately, but not because they were exercising their rights of free expression; it’s because they were breaking the law. That is the essence of any government’s (including USA’s) point of view when citizens face sanctions for doing something of which the government disapproves.
Hanoi-based Voice of Vietnam radio interviewed Nguyen Thanh Son, Vietnam’s chief human rights officer, who said the critical human rights reports are false and biased.
“Vietnamese law clearly stipulates how human rights are ensured in the freedom of speech, assembly and association on the Internet,” he said. “The country now has more than 700 print newspapers, 1,000 online newspapers and approximately 31 million Internet users. These figures show that there is no limit to speech and Internet freedom in Vietnam.”
Then he added:
“Some Vietnamese citizens have made bad use of the rights to the freedom of speech in an attempt to destabilize the situation in the country. They take advantage of websites to incite people and distort information about Party guidelines and policies and State laws regarding human rights.
“We have repeatedly told the US and Western nations that all law-breaking bloggers should be strictly dealt with.”
The reporter commented: “Freedom must be exercised within the law without infringing on others’ prestige or social security and order. Do you agree the freedom of speech in Vietnam is no exception?”
Son: “I think so. Freedom of speech, assembly and association on the Internet must be regulated by law in order to maintain social order and ensure security.”
Therefore, Vietnam (like all nations) faces a conundrum: How do you regulate freedom? If you regulate it, is it freedom?