Room For Debate Frees Up But Bloggers Remain Imprisoned In Vietnam

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Incarcerated for the past six years in poor prison conditions, Nguyen Van Hai (Nguyễn Văn Hải) has suffered dearly for his critical views on China. First detained on trumped up tax evasion charges in 2008, and subsequently convicted in 2012 on anti-state charges for blogging, 62-year-old Hai is currently serving a 12-year jail term that his family fears could be a death sentence in view of his declining health.

Hai, better known as Dieu Cay, was first arrested in April 2008, a political juncture when Vietnam was firmly in China’s diplomatic and economic orb. A recent deterioration in China-Vietnam relations, however, has allowed for marginally more open reporting and critical commentary on China in the state-controlled Vietnamese press.

“My father was the first to talk about China’s intentions [towards Vietnam],” said Hai’s son, Nguyen Tri Dung, in an interview with CPJ in Ho Chi Minh City. “Now, everybody is saying what he said about China, even government leaders. They should set my father free.”

The shift in central sentiment was evident in local reporting on the maritime confrontation from May to July, stemming from China’s placement of a massive oil exploration rig in an area of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. In May, anti-China riots that destroyed several Chinese-owned factories, and the evacuation of hundreds of Chinese citizens were also given surprisingly wide coverage in many state-controlled local newspapers. Read more here.