1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Freedom comes at a heavy price

Interview: Alexander Freund / mg
November 24, 2014

Bloggers in Vietnam are severely repressed. A month ago, one of the country's most popular bloggers was set free, only to be immediately deported to the US. He talks to DW about his experiences and plans for the future.

Nguyen Van Hai
Image: AFP/Getty Images/R. Beck

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai is known by his pseudonym Dieu Cay. He was released from prison in late October and flown to the US almost immediately; Nguyen wasn't even given the opportunity to say goodbye to his family.

In 2008, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment after being accused of "propaganda against the state," a charge which Nguyen has always refuted.

Nguyen, a former soldier, founded the "Independent Journalists' Club" in 2007, which became a headache for Vietnamese authorities. He criticized the prevalence of rampant corruption in the country and the attitude of the communist government in the territorial conflict with China.

Nguyen believed that the government was busy filling its pockets and it needed to liberate itself from its big and influential neighbor.

In Vietnam, many suffer the same fate as Nguyen. Reporters Without Borders (RWB) describes the situation regarding freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of the press in Vietnam as very serious.

In RWB's yearly index on press freedom, Vietnam is placed at 174, after Iran, in the list of 180 countries. China is at 175. According to RWB, around 26 Vietnamese online activists and citizen journalists like blogger Le Thi Phuong Anh of Vietnam's "Brotherhood for Democracy," an online network that campaigns for the democratization of Vietnam, are still in prison.

Le Thi has been in jail since May 2014 in the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Nai. She doesn't even know exactly what she has been charged with.

Nguyen Van Hai Dissident aus Vietnam Empfang in Los Angeles 21.10.2014
Nguyen received a warm welcome in Los AngelesImage: AFP/Getty Images/R. Beck

On November 22, during his state visit to the country, German economy minister Sigmar Gabriel met with human rights activists in Vietnam. The popular blogger "Mother Mushroom" and the brother of lawyer and political prisoner Le Quoc Quan were also part of the delegation which met Gabriel.

In a DW interview, blogger Nguyen Van Hai analyzed the current situation in Vietnam from his exile in the US.

DW: You spent more than six years of your life in prison. For the last month, you have been free and living in the US. How does it feel?

I was in jail for six years, six months and two days. My release was unexpected. It is difficult to express in words all that I felt when I entered the US. After the plane took off, I was moved when I looked at the country which is shaped like an "S" (On a map, Vietnam looks like an S).

I knew that I needed to carry on with my struggle, so that I could return some day. My family and friends still live in Vietnam. They all have to live in a society where human rights are not respected.

Freedom is the dominant feeling. It is my lifelong dream, to finally have free access to the Internet, to call someone up without the fear that someone else could be listening to your conversation. On the street I don't have communist security officers following me.

When and how did you find out about your travel to the US?

In September, a representative of the US State Department informed me that they were discussing my case with Vietnamese officials. I did not, however, know of any concrete dates then.

You have organized anti-China protests regarding the territorial conflict. You have also criticized the government because of its corrupt practices. Do you see yourself as a patriot, a political activist or as an opposition member?

As a Vietnamese citizen I expressed my opinion together with my friends in order to protect the territorial integrity of my country. We demand that the government respect the interests of our country.

The interests of the people should take priority over the interests of individual groups. Every citizen of every country would react in the exact same manner as I did. I am a citizen, who takes responsibility for his country and for himself.

When you reached the US, you were greeted by people who were waving the South Vietnamese flag. There has been no South Vietnam for the past 40 years - the country was based on a market economy, but it was not a democratic state. What would you say about the welcome you received?

I was born in North Vietnam and I also grew up there. I have never lived in South Vietnam and that is why I do not want to comment on whether South Vietnam was a democracy or a state based upon rule of law. But when I went there in 1971, I saw some differences from the regime in the north.

There was freedom. Private newspapers were allowed to be published. South Vietnam had a more dynamic and prosperous economy. Citizens could trade freely. People could strike and express their opinion. Everything was different from what we had learned and heard in the North. What kind of a constitutional state was North Vietnam at the time? How can the North speak about rights and laws? Even today in Vietnam, only the law of the communist party is valid.

At the airport in Los Angeles, I was warmly welcomed the way I would have been by a family welcoming a member returning after a long time. For me, it doesn't matter which flags my countrymen welcome me with.

What matters, is that they received me warmly. The flag is a symbol. In a democratic society, I need to respect the thoughts and symbols of other human beings.

Do you have plans for the future?

In the future, I will keep doing the same as before. We started the struggle for human rights and freedom of expression in Vietnam and I will not stop doing that.