Campaigners in China aren’t the only ones feeling the heat from an overbearing communist regime. While global attention has been focused on the detention of Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, dissidents in Vietnam have also been receiving heavy sentences for what the government terms ‘anti-state’ activities.
Last month, for example, saw an appeal by one of the most senior officials ever to be tried for dissent. Former Communist Party official Vi Duc Hoi, 54, was given a five-year jail sentence, with an additional three of house arrest. The sentence was, admittedly, a significant reduction compared with the eight years jail time and five years house arrest originally handed down. Still, Human Rights Watch wasn’t alone in describing the sentence as ‘very severe.’
And Hoi certainly isn’t alone.
Lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu was sentenced to seven years jail and three years house arrest late last month, having been detained after allegedly being discovered in a hotel with a woman who wasn’t his wife. His laptop was seized, his house was searched and he was charged with anti-state activities.
The same month, Bui Chat, founder of Giay Vun Publishing, was also arrested after he returned from Buenos Aires where he travelled to collect the Freedom to Publish award from the International Publishers Association. He was later released, but is said to be facing ongoing surveillance.
Last year, a blogger was arrested after she posted an entry describing a high-ranking official’s son as a womanizer. She was finally released last month, with authorities quoted in the local press saying she’d been sufficiently ‘cautioned.’
It’s often said that in all things security, Vietnam treads a similar path to China. Certainly, Beijing is in the midst of what many see as the most intense crackdown in years on dissidents over fears that the so-called Arab Spring could reach Asia’s shores. And for those looking for interesting parallels, Cu Huy Ha Vu’s case offers a particularly striking one.
Cu Huy Ha Vu comes from first-rate communist stock—the son of a famed poet who was a close confidant of Ho Chi Minh. This has an eerie parallel with China’s Ai—arrested in Beijing en route to Hong Kong—who himself is the son of a celebrated poet and who was previously thought by many to be untouchable.
Yet it would be wrong to try too hard to tie together events in Vietnam and China. For one, the intense ‘wider’ crackdown in Vietnam can actually be traced back to 2007.
‘It started after Hanoi got what it wanted—WTO accession—and has continued since,’ says Duy Hoang, spokesman for democracy organization Viet Tan, which is itself banned in Vietnam. ‘And the crackdown wasn’t a response to the 11th Party Congress, but to the regime’s growing nervousness over the growing democracy movement and blogosphere.’