A voice in Vietnam

Ho Thi Bich Khuong.
Born: 1967
Activity: Writer
Date of arrest: November 15, 2011
Sentence: Sentenced December 29, 2011 to 5 years imprisonment followed by 3 years house arrest
Charge: Propaganda against the socialist state
Current location: Nghe An province

This is the information available on the Vietnam Reform Party’s page on blogger Ho Thi Bich Khuong. Few in America have probably heard of her. But this is her third arrest. She has been tortured in detention, according to Human Rights Watch.

She was found guilty of violating article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code, designed to deflect criticism of the Communist government. The state said she “blackened” Vietnam’s name and belonged to human rights groups led by “reactionaries.”

She publishes detailed accounts of the repression and harassment she and her family have faced, and writes about the suffering of poor rural farmers and of human rights defenders, said a statement from Human Rights Watch.

In November 2010, she visited the families of people killed by police in a land rights protest and questioned the authorities’ silence on the case. After that, she wrote about violence against Mennonites at Christmas. Three weeks later, she was arrested, said Human Rights Watch.

“Vietnam should be grateful that people like Ho Thi Bich Khuong call attention to local abuses,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the global rights monitor.

“They give the government an opportunity to investigate and show commitment to the rule of law,” he said. “When the government instead clamps down on the media and locks up independent bloggers, it simply encourages further corruption and abuse of power.”

Human Rights Watch honored Ho Thi Bich Khuong with a Hellman/Hammett award in 2011. The group said it wanted to give an international platform to those who Vietnam will not allow to be heard.

Vietnam launched a crackdown on freedom of expression in 2009. Since then, dozens of political and human rights activists have been handed long jail terms, rights groups say. Vietnam now ranks 172 out of 179 countries on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

It’s a disturbing trend we don’t hear much about in the Western media. We ought to, especially when we are so focused on the Arab Spring and the great risks people take to get information out to the rest of the world from places like Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.

A Vietnamese court will hear Ho Thi Bich Khuong’s appeal tomorrow. It’s unlikely she will be released. She may be silenced for now, but her voice, I am sure, will resonate for as long as there is injustice in her homeland.

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