Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 25, 2012

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Taking a short break from American law, I would like to take the opportunity to reflect on how lucky I am to live in a country that values freedom of speech and freedom of the press by pointing out a tragic situation of three Vietnamese bloggers sentenced to prison for their writings:

  • Nguyen Van Hai, a blogger known as Dieu Cay (The Peasant’s Pipe), was sentenced to 12 years.
  • Ta Phong Tan, a former Communist Party member, was sentenced to 10 years for her writings on a blog entitled “Justice & Truth.”  Her mother died in July after setting herself on fire to protest the charges.
  • Phan Thanh Hai, a legal activist who blogged under a secret identity, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 4 years.

Each of these bloggers wrote on a variety of issues ranging from human rights concerns to questionable government practices.  They were all charged in April with attempting to spread propaganda and defame the Vietnamese government, and each was convicted and sent to prison for their work on the Internet.  The Communist Vietnamese government views bloggers as a threat to the stability of the country, and have taken steps to control the spread of ideas by imprisoning the sources to quiet them.  Of the 179 countries ranked in the press-freedom index, Vietnam ranks 172nd, one of the most oppressive in the world (China is 174th).

It is difficult to fathom life in a country that employs such strict controls on what people can read, write, and say.  To live in fear of one’s own government is an unsettling proposition that should make all Americans mindful of the consequences of government control over speech.  It is too easy to take our freedoms for granted, and cases like this in Vietnam serve as a sobering reminder of the rights that we enjoy on a daily basis.

The courage displayed by Dieu Cay, Ta Phong Tan, and Phan Thanh Hai is commendable, and their treatment despicable. Hopefully, in time, the words and ideas these bloggers paid such a steep price to convey will take root, and future generations of Vietnamese will not need courage to contribute their thoughts with the world.