Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh, born in 1956, known as blogger anhbasam (“The Gossiper”), is one of the most prominent civil rights activists in Vietnam. He and his colleague, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, were arrested in Hanoi on May 5, 2014 and since then they are in detention. The police accuse them of “abusing democratic freedom to infringe the interests of the State” according to Art. 258, Criminal Code of Vietnam. His arrest happened three days after China had installed an oil platform off the coast from Vietnam and hence put the Vietnamese population in excitement. At that time the website anhbasam, which was named after him, tried to provide the readers with comprehensive information about the sea dispute between Vietnam and China.
|Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh (anhbasam) and||Mrs. Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy|
The human rights organization VETO! considers Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh as a human rights defender, who has campaigned peacefully for the right to freedoms of press and information in the communist country. His arrest is arbitrary, since it was used to suppress the criticism on the ambivalent attitude of the Vietnamese government against the ideologically like-minded China.
Impact of the website anhbasam
As a “sidewalk’s press agency” the website anhbasam was launched in 2007, which aims to liberate readers „from the mental slavery”. anhbasam believes that Vietnamese citizens can form their own political opinions only through informing comprehensively. Following this motto anhbasam provides every day a compilation of information on political issues from several sources: state media, foreign press agencies, but also from political activists, journalists, private blogs and websites, which are stamped by the Vietnamese government as “reactionary” and “subversive”. anhbasam continuously offers extensive lists of links to the top 50 blogs from the civil society in Vietnam, 50 independent and state media pages in Vietnamese, 56 foreign media sites and 19 sites with instructions to circumventing the internet censorship. Blog techniques allow readers to post comments in a timely manner to the current events.
The Vietnamese government fights against the website anhbasam, because it was not approved by the state and therefore considered as illegal. Since 2007 the website has been constantly attacked and shut down with DDoS technique. Between 2010 and 2013, it was hacked three times and the website owners temporarily lost their administration rights. Also six of its mirrored websites and blogs were hacked and deleted during this time as well. Experts believe that e-mail accounts of their website administrators were hacked by IT specialists, who receive the salaries from the Vietnamese government.[i] Today the administrators operate three different sites: www.anhbasam.wordpress.com, www.basamnews.info and www.basam.info to allow the readers accessing at least one of their websites at anytime. According to the state media Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh also operated two other sites: Chép Sử Việt (Writing Down the Vietnamese History) and Dân Quyền (Civil Rights),[ii] which cannot be accessed anymore since his arrest. According to sources anhbasam had postedhundreds of thousands of articles on the Internet since 2009 and registered at least hundred thousand visits daily.[iii],[iv]
Most likely, the Government Decree No. 72/2013/ND-CP on “management, provision and use of Internet services and online information” was issued only to censor the website anhbasam. Art. 20, Par. 4 and Art. 26, Par. 4 of this Decree, which entered into force on September 1, 2013, prohibit blog and website owners in Vietnam compiling information from state media or from websites of public authorities.[v] At that time anhbasam was the only accessible website in Vietnam that could have such a volume of documents and number of visitors. In order to circumvent the censorship the website anhbasam had already taken precautions: the administration rights and the website were moved abroad in 2013 and hence outside of the scope of the Vietnamese laws.[vi] After the arrest the editorial staff of anhbasam declared on May 9, 2014: “Nguyen Huu Vinh was arrested, but not anhbasam“. In the ranking list of alexa.com anhbasam websites are still among the most visited websites in Vietnam.[vii]
Formation of opinion through access to information
Mr. Nguyen Huu Vinh (blogger anhbasam) believes in a self-liberation of the people through access to independent information.[viii] He likes to take his own change of heart as an example. In the seventies, his father Nguyen Huu Khieu was Minister of Labor, Vietnam’s ambassador to the former Soviet Union and member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV). Nguyen Huu Vinh grew up in a privileged environment; he was also a member of the CPV and an officer of the State Security Agency in Domestic and International Services. In these roles he had contact to certain information and people, that made him pensive and triggered in him a “self-evolution process”, as he names it.[ix] He quit his position at the State Security Agency in 2000 and started his own business with a detective agency.
As blogger anhbasam he does not see himself primarily as an opponent of the system. Although very determined in his goal to make information generally available, he did not confront the authorities directly. Sometimes he rather reduced his activities in order to avoid an escalation. He believes that his website has made a positive contribution to the freedom of press. For example he referred to the resonance, which he had achieved with his website: in an example case while the website of a state newspaper had only get a comment on one of their articles, his website received altogether 600 critical comments to that article. This was the first time to establish successfully critical forums with a broad impact compared to the State Press. anhbasam hopes that one day the private press is allowed in Vietnam.
VETO! urges the Vietnamese government to:
[i] Vietnam’s ‘Cyber Troops’ Take Fight to US, France; Associated Press, 01/20/2014, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2014/01/20/world/asia/ap-as-vietnam-online-wars.html?_r=1
[ii] Reasons for the arrest of anhbasam, VTC News, 05/09/2014, http://vtc.vn/7-487149/phap-luat/vi-sao-anh-ba-sam-bi-bat.htm
[iii] Reasons for the arrest anhbasam, Tuoi Tre Online, 05/09/2014, http://tuoitre.vn/Chinh-tri-xa-hoi/Phap-luat/606530/ly-do-bat-anh-ba-sam.html
[iv] If Your Blog Gets Hacked, Can WordPress Help?, Global Voices Advocay, 06/05/2013, http://advocacy.globalvoicesonline.org/2013/06/05/if-your-blog-gets-hacked-can-wordpress-help/
[v] Vietnam verbietet im Netz Informations-Verbreitung, Die Welt, 08/01/2013, http://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article118592131/Vietnam-verbietet-im-Netz-Informations-Verbreitung.html
[vi] Notice on 03/10/2013, http://anhbasam.wordpress.com/2013/03/10/kinh-cao/
[vii] As example anhbasam.wordpress.com ranks at the position 2303 of the mostly visited websites in Vietnam, value calculated by the website analysis alexa.com on 10/11/2014, http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/anhbasam.wordpress.com
[ix] To the fifth anniversary of anhbasam – Speak from the heart and Thank, 09/09/2012, http://basam.info/2012/09/09/ba-sam-5-tuoi-tam-su-va-tri-an/
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