Vietnam: A Story of Government Controlflag


Nestled between Laos, Cambodia, and China, Vietnam is a land that has seen nothing but turmoil for the past 50 years. Vietnam, as noted by Reporters Without Borders, is a country with a very serious problem concerning free speech and free press. From the Communist government censoring what newspapers are allowed to print and say, to peaceful protestors being thrown in prison for violating laws prohibiting anti-government speech, to the government hiring so-called “public-opinion shapers”, the government of Vietnam is one of the most oppressive governments in the world has ever seen, and with social media becoming a bigger and bigger part of people’s lives, the Vietnamese government now has but another way they can limit their citizens. If left alone, the problem in Vietnam will not get better, but will grow exceedingly worse as the years go on.  Vietnam appears to be on track for a massive decrease in the citizens’ free speech and free press rights in the years to come.

Historical Background

Vietnam began as a part of the Chinese Dynasty in 939 A.D. and stayed this way until in 1887 France spread and took control of the government until 1945, when Vietnam was split into the Communist North Vietnam and the Democratic South Vietnam. When the country erupted into an ideological civil war between the Communist North and the Democratic South, United States President Dwight Eisenhower sought to contain the spread of communism and got the United States involved through their ambassadors. The war, known as the Vietnam War, lasted 16 years, from 1955 to August 1973. After the United States pulled out of Vietnam, the South Vietnamese held on for another two years until the North overtook them and took over the country, forming the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. This is how it has stayed for the past 41 years, with the Communist government controlling every aspect of the citizens’ lives. The country has a one-party system and the citizens have little to no actual freedoms. The country is known for its agriculture, textile production, and tourism business, with the main crop grown being rice. The country has a population of 90.7 million people with their being an even 50-50 split in the percentage of males and females. The average age of the population is 29, and due to the extreme government restrictions, most of the country is primarily non-religious, with a small portion of the population out in the rural areas being Buddhist. The infant-mortality rate in Vietnam has been steadily declining since the Vietnam War, and today it is at a rate of 17 deaths per 1,000 births, which is better than most countries in the world, but still not on the rate of most developed countries. The literacy rate in Vietnam has also seen a major increase, up to 90.9 percent of the population can read and write. The country is located in what is known as Indo-China, east of Laos and Cambodia, and south of China, bordered on the east by the Sea of China. The country is currently being led by their elected President, Trương Tấn Sang, their Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, and Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng. Sang has been in power since July 25, 2011, and has done almost nothing to help improve the country’s problem with the freedom of its citizens.

Free Speech: Historical Issues

Free speech in Vietnam is almost non-existent, as the government controls almost every form of media and monitors all social media and web searches. In the past, there have been many instances of the government trying to silence protestors and other forms of speech and expression. The state crackdown on speech primarily begins at the turn of the millennium. Before there aren’t very many laws involving the limiting of speech and press, as the country was still in a period of reform from the Vietnam War. As the rise of computers and social media come about in the late 2000’s, one can see an increase in restrictions and laws preventing the expression of speech and press. However, the government of Vietnam did enact certain laws that led to the culture of speech that the country has today. In May of 1999, the Vietnamese government did pass a series of laws that restricted media, including internet and print. The laws specifically stated that the government had control of any web data that was accessed and that writers must pay compensation to anyone harmed by their articles, be they libel or true. In terms of speech, this limits any source that people wish to access, and the primary sites that were restricted were outlets from other countries and pro-democratic sites. The public backlash and criticism from outside organizations such as WAN (World Association of Newspapers) led the government to revise some of the laws and to release some imprisoned activists. Another setback in the past for free speech was the treatment of the Khmer Krom, the indigenous peoples of Southern Vietnam. The Khmer Krom have been protesting the government of Vietnam and the ban on religion since the takeover of the Communist government in 1975. The main forms of protest are flag burnings and public protests. The government silences any and all protests and arrest activists who try and get the government to change their policies regarding religion. There hasn’t been much talk about them by other nations, as they seem to be isolated in the region of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

Free Speech: Recent Issues

As of late, with the rise of social media and internet blogs, the government of Vietnam has had more and more opportunities to limit the speech of its citizens. In December 2015, citizen-journalist and cyber-activist Nguyen Van Dai was badly beaten by police officers. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Dai described how the authorities had been harassing him and the people working for Luong Tam TV, an independent web channel. Seven of its employees were arrested in September 2015, and some of their TV equipment was confiscated. The head of the RSF Asia-Pacific office, Benjamin Ismail, said, “We are appalled by this brutal attack…Everyone knows he [Dai] is persecuted constantly by the authorities because of his commitment to freedom of information and human rights.” This event tarnished Vietnam’s already terrible reputation regarding human rights and free speech, yet the country did nothing to look into the matter. Another incident that has come up in early 2016 is the trial of two Vietnamese bloggers, Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. They were arrested and imprisoned for “abusing democratic freedoms” over 22 months ago, and stood trial together on March 23rd, 2016. The crime carries a maximum of seven years imprisonment, and it wasn’t clear whether the time they already served would be counted as part of their sentence, but it’s doubtful that it will. The blog that the two ran posted links to state-run Vietnamese media, often with commentary bashing the content written by the blogs administrators. Shawn Crispin, the Committee to Protect Journalists’ senior Southeast Asia representative said, “If Vietnam wants to be viewed as a responsible member of the international community and a reliable partner in multilateral agreements, these bogus anti-state convictions must stop immediately.” It appears that Vietnam has little to no care in regards to the free speech of its citizens, and that their main goal is to keep the voices of their citizens repressed. If the country continues at this rate, they will soon equal countries such as North Korea in censorship.

Free Press: Historical Issues

Another issue that has plagued Vietnam for years is the treatment of journalists and the freedom of press. In 1999 Vietnam created a law regarding libel, requiring journalists to pay damages to any group or individuals found to have been harmed by press articles, even if those articles were found to be accurate. This law came to being after a large scandal involving corruption and members of the government was leaked and written about by citizen-journalists. The journalists were required to pay large sums of money to each of the individuals harmed by the stories written about the corruption. This has only further discouraged journalists from speaking about what truly happens in the country and keeps things like corruption under wraps, hindering free press in the country severely. Another incident involves the editor of a state-run newspaper, Nguyen Hoang Linh, who was arrested on charges of revealing state-secrets on October 8th, 1997. Nguyen was reportedly arrested for an article on questionable business practices by the General Customs Department of Vietnam in the purchase of coastal patrol boats. Local journalists told Reuters, a news agency, that the arrest was to be a warning to other reporters who might report on government corruption. The Vietnamese government also released a decree preventing domestic journalists from passing information to their foreign counterparts without permission from the state, further limiting and preventing free press in their country. Lastly, in August 1996, writer Nguyen Xuan Tu was given a twelve-month sentence on charges of possessing “secret” documents, but no details about these documents have been released to the public. It is thought that the real reason he was arrested was a broadcast that he made to a Vietnamese-speaking radio station broadcasted out of the United States, in which he called for economic and political reform in Vietnam. He is said to have told the listeners of the show that “the direction of the party is hindering the development of many talented people in Vietnam. We have to say goodbye to the old proletarian ideology.” Nguyen is known for his articles being critical of the Vietnamese government and of Marxist-Leninist ideology in general. Once again, no outside help was given and this further damaged free speech in the country.

Free Press: Recent Issues

With the turn of the millennium in Vietnam, the everyday newspaper was taken over by blogs and social media. Yet still we see journalists getting beaten by the police even as recently as 2014. In November 2014, freelance journalist Truong Minh Duc was beaten to the brink of death by eight police officers, who were accused of beating him after he had already lost consciousness. The motive of the attack is unclear, but the head of Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific said, “Such police attacks are common among bloggers and journalists and is becoming more frequent throughout the country.” He goes on to say how these are probably not isolated acts, but the result of a terror policy created by the Communist government. This only further goes on to hurt the country’s reputation as a free country, and continues to create a culture of silence and fear of the government.

Critical Comparison

As Americans tend to think that they live in the freest country in the world and that no other country rivals U.S. personal freedoms. Now that may not always be true, but when it comes to the country of Vietnam, America certainly seem like the haven that this country hopes to be. The issues spoken of earlier would never even occur in the United States. Flag-burning, while seen as disrespectful, is backed up by the case Texas v. Johnson, where the United States Supreme Court ruled that flag-burning is seen as a proper form of self-expression and falls under the First Amendment and the right to free speech. Gregory Johnson was with a group protesting the Republican Party and Ronald Reagan at the 1984 Republican Convention in Dallas, Texas. When the group reached Dallas City Hall, Johnson was handed a flag and proceeded to burn the flag. The U.S. Supreme Court decided that the conviction was not in line with the First Amendment because even though someone’s opinion may be different from yours, they are still entitled to express that opinion, and that the actual burning of a flag is seen as expression. Yet as seen with the Khmer Khom, flag-burning is a jailable offense in Vietnam. Also in the incident involving a journalist who leaked state secrets, in the United States that is protected by the case, New York Times v. United States, otherwise known as the Pentagon Papers Case. In the case, a defense contractor leaked documents to The New York Times, which published these documents. The documents were released and the government said that the newspaper couldn’t do this and used prior restraint to try and keep The Times from releasing this. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government had no right to limit what journalists printed, even if state secrets were involved, and ruled 6-3 on the side of The New York Times. As seen in Vietnam however, this is a serious offense and is against the law in Vietnam. Lastly, when it comes to libel laws here in the United States, if the information is found to be true, and if the individual is a public figure, then there is nothing the journalist has to do, and the individual harmed by the articles have no right to sue, as seen in the court case New York Times v. Sullivan. In the case, the court ruled in a 9-0 decision that Sullivan had no right to sue the Times because no actual malice was found (actual malice being that the journalist knew that the information was false and proceeded to publish it anyway). In the case, The New York Times published an ad protesting claimed abuses and seeking financial support on behalf of the negro right-to-vote movement. The ad told of misuse of police power and put the police force and commissioner in a poor light, but never came out and named anyone involved. The commissioner L.B. Sullivan sued the paper because he stated that the Times defamed him and ruined his reputation, keeping him from getting a job. In Vietnam however, journalists are required to pay for damages, even if the information is true, and if no actual malice is found against the public figure.


All of these come together to show that the United States is far and away much more free than Vietnam in regards to free speech and press. Be it protest rights, the rights of journalists to print government documents, or journalistic protection in regards to libel suits, individuals are far freer in the United States than individuals in Vietnam. Even the RWB and RSF came to this conclusion, placing Vietnam on multiple lists regarding enemies to free speech and the internet, with the RSF even going so far as to place them at 175 out of 180 in freedom of journalists. The United States may not be a paradise for protestors and journalists right now, but Vietnam is a hell for journalists and a place where you always have to watch what you say and do, in the off chance that you may be the next victim of this fascist government.





  1. Bibliography
    1. Written
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      2. Nakashima, Ellen. “Free Speech Issues Still Problematic For Vietnam.” The Washington Post 29 Sept. 2005: n. pag. Print.

iii.      Roberts, Gene. “U.S.-Saigon Rift on Talks Widens.” The New York Times 3 Nov. 1968: n. pag. Print.

  1. Hookway, James. “Rise of Mobile in Vietnam Fuels Push for Free Speech.” The Wall Stre Journal [New York City] 18 Sept. 2013: n. pag. Print.
  2. Websites
  3. “Literacy and Community Development Programme (LCDP).” Effective Literacy Programmes › L. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  4. “Infant Mortality Rate in Vietnam” N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2016


  1. “Citizen-journalist Nguyen Van Dai Badly Beaten – IFEX.” IFEX. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  2. “Vietnamese Bloggers Imprisoned for ‘abusing Democratic Freedoms’ – IFEX.” IFEX. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.
  3. “Editor of State-run Newspaper Arrested on Charges of Revealing State Secrets – IFEX.” IFEX. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

vii.      “Vietnamese Journalist Beaten Unconscious by Eight Policemen, in Critical Condition – IFEX.” IFEX. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2016.

Last Updated: April 30th, 2016

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