News / Asia

Vietnam Jails Musicians Over 'Anti-State Propaganda'

VOA NewsMarianne Brown
Two prominent Vietnamese musicians have become the latest activists to be jailed for spreading songs that are critical of the Chinese government.

Despite strict censorship spanning decades, composers in Vietnam have rarely been prosecuted for the content of their music. However the work of Vo Minh Tri, better known under his pen name Viet Khang, and Tran Vu Anh Binh crossed the line.

At a court in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday, activists say the two became the first musicians in recent memory to be given jail terms for their music. Khang was sentenced to four years in jail and two under house arrest, while Binh was jailed for six years, also with two years house arrest.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch said an overseas opposition group had claimed Binh was a member. He said the group claimed Binh wrote songs supporting dissidents and supporting the anti-China protests.

“We haven’t actually been able to get to the bottom of that, whether it’s true or not," he said. "Obviously when an exiled group claims someone in Vietnam is a member, there are both positive and negative sides to that. Whether that figured in the sentencing or not is unclear.”

In the wake of police crackdowns on anti-China protesters across Vietnam, Viet Khang wrote two songs:  "Anh La Ai?," which means Who are You? and NuocToi Dau?, which translates as "Where is My Country?" When he uploaded them onto YouTube the songs went viral.

In "Where is My Country"' Khang asks security forces:

“Where is your nationalism?
Why consciously take orders from China?
You will leave a mark to last a thousand years
Your hands will be stained with the blood of our people.”

He was arrested in December and charged with conducting propaganda against the state under Article 88 of the penal code. His mother, 56-year-old Chung Thị Thu Van, said a day before the trial she hoped the court would be lenient.

When she heard police had arrested him, she asked them if she could see her son before they took him away but they refused.

Khang’s case sparked a campaign in the United States called Free Viet Khang. His name is also included in a petition sent to the U.S. President in February demanding the release of prominent dissidents. So far it has attracted over 150,000 signatures.

Under Vietnamese law, musicians have to seek permission from censors before they broadcast their work to a public audience. Observers say this encourages self-censorship and stifles dissent before it becomes public. Although Viet Khang’s work was an Internet hit, the audience was still restricted because it did not reach mainstream broadcasters.

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch says that may not matter, particularly with the government's new focus on artistic expression and state security.

"I’m presuming that it’s connected to the fact these songs have gone viral and have been widely distributed on the Internet," he said. "But the other side of it with the Vietnam government being increasingly influenced and driven by the prerogatives of the Ministry of Public Security, everything’s fair game."

Observers say the government is particularly sensitive to anti-China sentiment, after tensions rose between the two countries over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea earlier this year and in the summer of 2011. Many believe authorities are concerned anti-China protests could become anti-government if left unchecked.

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Comment Sorting
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
November 02, 2012 8:44 AM
This is my thought that the Vietnamese are generally speaking generous, hornest and hard-working people. Vietnamese people fought against the U.S. with disadvantageos military to have gotten win. They make livings mainly by farming independently and have never envaded foreign coutries. Now, I have respected Vietnmese government claims their sovereignty of disputed small islands with China. Is Vietnamese government taking order from China? If so, I hope Vietnamese people should get courage enough to make decision and take actions to protest its government to keep their inependence.
In Response

by: Autumn Field from: hanoi
November 03, 2012 3:41 AM
As a vietnamese people, i feel thankful very much to your positive
thinking about Vietnamese. We actually have the strength of the whole country's union, which made us winner in the past. However, now we ourselves do not understand why the Goverment restrict protest against China. we do want to speak out our attitude now !

by: ImpeccableVision from: The BlueHeaven
November 01, 2012 10:33 PM
90 millions of Vietnamese citizens are no more and no less to be treated as the forever slaves for the very gruesome and most harmful and trecherous and far worst than Bin Laden, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Stalin and Satan combined! these gruesome devils are the Vietnamese Communists (VietCong) of the Vietnamese Communist Party!
These VietCong or VC all deserved to be hanged or executed by lethal injection! Each VC is a living SATAN in Vietnam today! also, each VC is a relentless thief, liar, terrorist, and above all each VC is a worst TRAITOR of Vietnam nation in almost 100 yrs

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
October 31, 2012 7:20 PM
Poor Vietnamese. In China we can freely protest against Japan and USA.
BTW, small countries has to take order from someone, like it or not. Either China or USA, may be Russia? you choose.
At least China is growing up, but USA is sinking down.
In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
November 04, 2012 9:40 AM
Stop fooling people with west propaganda. China is the best in all big developing countries. Much better than democratic India and Mexico. BTW, I am exploiting America like Ancient Europeans did 400 year ago, OK? Ask me to go back then you should ask all white people to go back Europe first!
In Response

by: Anonymous
November 03, 2012 11:24 PM
Scared? Of What? How is that going to contribute to the discussion?

What about the Occupy movement? I was replying to your comment about how much freedom the Chinese people have and how great China is. Why try to change the subject huh?

And BTW there is a big difference in the US policing the world compare to China bullying smaller countries and trying to steal their land and resources.
In Response

by: @Jonathan Huang
November 03, 2012 6:55 PM
China is just a totalitarian,communist dictatorship like Vietnam.You should go back to China,condemning the abuse of power and corruption among the Chinese leadership and fight for the 600 million impoverished Chinese if you dare.China is not great anyway,otherwise you wouldn't be in Canada taking refuge today
In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
November 03, 2012 10:00 AM
to Amonymous, why you are scared of putting on your name here?
Tell me what happened when American try to protest their government? uhn? What happened to Wall street Occupy movement? And you should tell US stop being a world police if you dont like the "bully mentality", LOL China just wants to be the vice chief so far!
In Response

by: Anonymous
November 02, 2012 9:55 PM
I wouldn't be proud of the fact that Chinese people can freely participate in Chinese government's propaganda. Try protesting against the Chinese government and see what happen. "Small countries has to take order from someone?" What a typical Chinese bully mentality.

by: Anonymous
October 31, 2012 2:42 PM
They are very afraid of propaganda, because 4 decades ago they used it and won the US and South Vietnam.

by: CK from: VIET NAM
October 31, 2012 12:31 AM
Civilians in Vietnam should keep out of politics, 'cause it is not welcomed and the people there know nothing about politics and thus are easily provoked by negative sentiments.
In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
November 04, 2012 9:36 AM
I compare India with China because these two countries have lots of similarities. Both have ancient cultures. Both are big and huge populations. Both have multiple ethnics. Both were invaded by west once. But now democratic India is more corrupted and poorer, the gap between rich and poor is wider than that in "dictatorship" China.
How do you know if China becomes "democratic" and wont becomes like another India? more corrupted and poorer? Tell me!
And India is not alone, just look democratic Mexico, Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines, Argentina..... almost all those big developing countries. I dont see anyone is doing better than China! So open your eyes, dont be fooled by west propaganda!
In Response

by: Anonymous
November 03, 2012 11:36 PM
I don't know how the Indian government is run but I suspect cultural element has a lot to do with its corruption. Democracy is only as good as the people involved.

I see that you pick one of the more corrupted countries to compare China with. It's good to aim low to make yourself look good huh LOL. I've noticed similar pattern on other posts around the net concerning China.
In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
November 03, 2012 10:12 AM
just speak out which is more corrupted? communism China government or democratic Indian government?

I suggest you can use some help from Transparency International (TI) publishes the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) LOL

I dont use the rank of Vietnam because it is obviously a bias on it. So called TI always want to destroy the image of communism.
In Response

by: Anonymous
November 02, 2012 9:45 PM
Pointing out one outlier does not disprove what I wrote. Corruption is unavoidable as it's an extension of human's greed. It's common sense that if you take away the people's freedom to speak up against the government then that government tend to be more corrupted.
In Response

by: Jonathan Huang from: canada
November 01, 2012 10:32 PM
to Anonymous dare not tell name. So why democratic Indian government is even more corrupted?
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 31, 2012 8:09 PM
Since you're from Vietnam you have no concept of freedom of speech. Ask yourself why the Vietnamese government is so corrupted. It's because people are afraid to speak up or say anything against the government.
In Response

by: Anonymous
October 31, 2012 8:02 PM
It's not about politics. It's about being patriotic and speaking up for what is not right.

by: T from: Dean
October 31, 2012 12:01 AM
The old same Vietnamese communists continue to corrupt the nation, suppress Vietnamese citizens. The whole world of communism has been obsoleted. Only Vietnam China and North Korea still maintain the oppression on their citizens.

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