During last year’s online debate over SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), the tech-driven opposition was able to gin up hysteria against the bill with cries that it would “break” the internet and destroy “free speech” online. Never has the online meme-machine spinned with such outrage.
Contrast that faux fury with this week’s news out of Vietnam that two musicians, whose music went viral online, have been sent to prison for posting songs that “spread propaganda against the state” –a real-world example as to what threats to “free speech” can really mean. Vo Minh Tri was sentenced to 4 years in prison while Tran Vu Anh Binh will spend 6 years behind bars. From the Associated Press:
In a half-day trial, a court in Ho Chi Minh City accused the musicians of posting songs on a website operated by an overseas Vietnamese opposition group, Patriotic Youth, according to Hai. Communist Vietnam does not tolerate challenges to its one-party rule.
Tri’s songs criticized Vietnam’s government for its seeming passivity on standing up to China for claims to the South China Sea, rich in natural resources. Here’s an English-language version of Tri’s ”Who are You” and “Where is my Vietnam ” posted on Youtube:
Binh wrote the music for a song ““Courage in the Dark Prison” which focused attention on the plight of three bloggers who in September were convicted on the same charges. The bloggers, Hai (known as Dieu Cay), along with Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan, were sentenced to terms ranging from 4 to 12 years. Dieu Cay had already spent 30 months in prison (from 2008-1010) for earlier anti-government commentary.
“The alleged crime committed by these bloggers is to report stories that the government does not want the Vietnamese people to read,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Vietnam’s arbitrary use of vaguely worded national security laws to imprison critics of the government means bloggers are bearing the brunt of this assault on freedom of expression.” -NY times
I have to ask, where’s the outrage among the internet community when “free speech” is really at stake? In Vietnam, musicians and bloggers who used their art and the internet to express opinions about their government are thrown into jail–yet nary a tweet or Google-led protest to be found. If one is concerned about the “chilling” effects against free speech online, doesn’t this qualify? Why no outcry?
The U.S. Department of State issued a statement condemning the imprisonment of the musicians:
This is the latest in a series of detentions and convictions in Vietnam against those seeking nothing more than the peaceful expression of their views. This latest example of the Vietnamese authorities restricting freedom of expression is inconsistent with international standards. Given the recent worsening of the human rights situation in Vietnam, we urge the Vietnamese government to acknowledge and remedy this situation, including through the release of these musicians, and all prisoners of conscience, as well as adherence to its international obligations immediately.
In order to flourish, art has always depended on the free expression of ideas, political or otherwise. If you want to speak up in support of these brave artists and writers and support their right to free speech, please help spread the word! Use the hashtag #freespeech4artistsonline.