Vietnam sentences 2 songwriters to prison for posting songs critical of the government

Posted on October 30, 2012


Any Vietnamese who accuses the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) of selling Vietnam out to China will be automatically sentenced to long years in jail. Below is proof that the VCP has tried its utmost to unofficially turn Vietnam into one of China’s newest colonial province.

Vietnamese children waving modified China’s flag (5 small stars instead of 4 small official stars representing 4 major ethnic groups Mongolian, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Manchurian; the 5th small star represents the 5th ethnic group in China: the Viets) to salute Xi Jinping when he visited Vietnam last year.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (front) arrives in Hanoi, Vietnam, Dec. 20, 2011, to start his official visit to Vietnam. (Xinhua/Li Xueren) – Note: There are only 4 small stars on China’s flag painted on the Air China plane.

HANOI — 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.


Jailed for Sensitive Songs

Vietnam sentences two musicians to up to six years for “anti-state propaganda.”

A court in Vietnam sent two prominent musicians to prison Tuesday for writing politically sensitive songs, drawing criticism from rights groups which saw the decision as part of a growing crackdown on dissent not tolerated in the one-party communist state.

Following a half-day trial, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City handed Vo Minh Tri, a 34-year-old drummer from My Tho in Tien Giang province, four years in prison and Tran Vu Anh Binh, a 37-year-old songwriter from the city, six years in jail, Tri’s lawyer Tran Vu Hai told RFA’s Vietnamese service.

Binh and Tri, who is also known as Viet Khang, were convicted for producing “propaganda against the state” and were also given two years of probation each following completion of jail time.

The Supreme People’s Procuracy of Vietnam, which is responsible for prosecutions and legal matters in Vietnam, had argued for significantly longer sentences for the two musicians, Hai said.

“The Procurator had asked that … the Penal Code’s Article 88 be applied with a jail term of up to 20 years, on the pretext that these were cases of severe propaganda against the state,” the lawyer said.

“We argued that was inappropriate because the court could not show any evidence of such severe propaganda.”

Both men were detained under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code, a provision rights groups say Vietnam has used to detain dozens of bloggers in a campaign to silence dissent.

Binh, who was arrested on Sept. 19, 2011, has written songs against the imprisonment of dissidents, including prominent blogger Nguyen Van Hai—also known as Dieu Cay.

Tri, who was arrested on Dec. 23, 2011, is known for writing lyrics which rail against a widening income gap between Vietnam’s wealthy and poor, and against state crackdowns on activists protesting Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

Hai said the judge had refused a request by the two men to play their songs in court.

Guarded trial

Supporters of the two men said that Tuesday’s trial was heavily guarded and that they were refused entry to the courtroom.

“There were a lot of policemen, even military ones,” said a woman who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity. “Not only did they cordon off the four sides of the court, they also warded people off from afar at the intersections.”

“I walked around to see the intersections. Each had about a dozen to 20 policemen.” 

Father Dinh Huu Thoai from the Catholic Redemptorist Order—of which Binh is a choir member—said he had been removed from the area around the courthouse by police and interrogated at a nearby station.

“Their aim [in escorting me to the Ben Thanh police station] was to delete all the pictures I took and to check my cell phone,” Thoai said.

“The deputy police chief of the station said, ‘You are a priest and should only be at church.’ I replied, ‘The trial is for one of my church members, Binh, so this morning I came to attend’,” he said, adding that he was sent home after being questioned.

Political affiliation

Lawyer Hai said the court had accused both men of having ties to the Patriot Youth, an overseas political opposition group.

Hai said that Binh, whose songs had been performed by several popular singers in Vietnam, had been accused of writing for the Patriot Youth political blog.

“He was accused of joining the Patriot Youth, an online organization which aims to produce ‘propaganda against the state’,” the lawyer said.

“[They said] he is in charge of a Patriot Youth blog on which he posted many songs and other information.”

Patriot Youth claims Binh as a member who wrote a song called “Pain of the Homeland” under the pen name Hoang Nhat Thong.

Hai said that his client Tri had no political motivation and would appeal his sentence.

“Viet Khang will appeal to a higher court because he said he is not a political activist, he just writes songs about whatever he is thinking,” the lawyer said.

“He would do anything to return to his family.”

Call for release

The outcome of the musicians’ trial drew immediate condemnation from international rights groups, which called for the unconditional release of the two men.

Phil Robertson, New York-based Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, called the jailing an “outrageous new turn of events” in Vietnam, already known for its relentless suppression of dissent.

“Vietnam’s escalating crackdown on freedom of expression has now reached the ranks of musicians, showing that even singing about ideas opposed by the government will see the offender condemned to a long prison term,” he said.

“Jailing song-writers is an outrageous new turn of events that reveals the totality of the government’s intolerance for those raising uncomfortable issues, whether they are economic disparities, police brutality, or Vietnam’s relationship with China.”

The Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights said the sentences showed that Vietnam, which is seeking a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2014-2016, is not ready to hold meaningful dialogue with the international community on such issues.

“Once again, Hanoi has displayed its utter contempt for its citizens’ rights and its international obligations,” said Vo Van Ai, president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.

“Just last week, Vietnam held its annual human rights dialogue with the European Union. Its dialogue with the United States is in November. Between these two rounds of dialogues, Hanoi sentences two young people who have done nothing but to sing of freedom and the love of their country,” Ai said.

“This hypocrisy should cease and these two people should be immediately set free.”


HANOI, Vietnam — Two musicians in Vietnam whose topical songs are popular among overseas Vietnamese were sentenced to prison Tuesday, prompting criticism from the United States and international rights groups.

Overseas Vietnamese Patriotic Youth’s online poster demanding freedom for songwriters Viet Khang (left) and Tran Vu anh Binh (right)

Vo Minh Tri and Tran Vu Anh Binh were sentenced to four and six years in prison, respectively, on charges of spreading propaganda against the state, said Tri’s lawyer, Tran Vu Hai. They faced possible sentences of up to 20 years.

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, 34, known as Viet Khang, has composed songs criticizing the government for not taking a more aggressive position against China in the potentially resource-rich South China Sea, where Vietnam, China and other Asian nations have competing territorial claims. A video of his song “Where is My Vietnam?” (Viet Nam Toi Dau) has been viewed more than 700,000 times on YouTube.

Binh, 37, is credited with writing the music for “Courage in the Dark Prison” (Nguc Toi Hien Ngang), a song that encourages nonviolent protest and expresses support for imprisoned blogger Nguyen Van Hai.

The convictions come a month after Hai, known as Dieu Cay, and two other Vietnamese bloggers were sentenced to four to 12 years behind bars on the same charges.

Human Rights Watch condemned Tuesday’s trial and called for the songwriters’ immediate release.

“First critics, then bloggers, then poets, and now musicians!” Phil Robertson, deputy director at the New York-based group’s Asia division, said in a statement. “The international community can no longer stand by quietly as these free speech activists are picked off one by one by Vietnam’s security apparatus.”

Truc Ho, one of Tri’s U.S.-based supporters, told The Associated Press in April that Patriotic Youth is a group of students, artists and young professionals who promote awareness of social justice and human rights issues in Vietnam.

Overseas Vietnamese protesting in front of Vietnam’s consulate in San Francisco on Oct 29, 2012 demanding release of songwriters Viet Khang and Tran Vu Anh Binh.

After Tri was arrested in December, Truc Ho said he and some friends launched a campaign in the United States to press for the songwriter’s release. Their online petition to the White House gathered more than 150,000 signatures within a month, he said.

Anh là ai ? & Vietnam tôi đâu ? songs

The U.S. Embassy said it was deeply troubled by Tri’s sentencing.

“This conviction is the latest in a series of moves by Vietnamese authorities to restrict freedom of expression. The Vietnamese government should release this musician, all prisoners of conscience and adhere to its international obligations immediately,” embassy spokesman Christopher Hodges said in a statement.

Associated Press