Vietnamese Reporter Fired for Critical Essay

Posted on February 28, 2013


A state-run newspaper in Vietnam has fired a journalist after he criticized the ruling Communist Party general secretary for speaking out against political reforms.

The official Family and Society newspaper announced its decision to fire reporter Nguyen Dac Kien for “violating the rules of his contract” and said it was disassociating itself from his views in a statement issued Tuesday.

Nguyen Dac Kien in an undated photo.  Photo courtesy of Kien/Facebook

Nguyen Dac Kien in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Kien/Facebook

Family and Society would like to inform its readers that Nguyen Dac Kien violated the operating rules of the newspaper and his labor contract. Therefore, the discipline panel of the newspaper convened and decided to discipline Nguyen Dac Kien by firing him,” the statement read.

“As of now, Nguyen Dac Kien is no longer with the newspaper and he is held accountable before the law for his words and behavior. Organization and individuals wishing to contact the newspaper should speak with the office directly, not through Nguyen Dac Kien.”

The announcement of his sacking came less than 24 hours after Kien’s essay, which criticized a recent speech by Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, became a viral sensation online in Vietnam.

‘Ready for anything’

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Tuesday, Kien maintained that he has done nothing wrong.

But he said that he does not blame the newspaper for removing him because of the potential fallout from his article.

“My awareness of citizen’s rights did not come yesterday or the day before—it has been a long process. The motivation to express that awareness came after listening to what [Trong] said on television,” he said.

In an address carried on national television Monday, Trong had lambasted a recent “deterioration” of the country’s morals and ethics and slammed critics who had called for the removal of a constitutional provision that underlines the leadership role of the Communist Party.

“Recently there have been some comments that have contributed to the deterioration of the political, ideological and moral environment,” Trong said.

“There are people who have called for the removal of Article 4 of the Constitution, who have questioned the Party’s leadership role [and] who have called for multiparty pluralism [and] who seek separation of powers and railed against the politicization of the military,” he said.

Article 4 states that the Communist Party “is the force assuming leadership of the State and society.”

“People take these ideas and express them through the mass media. If that isn’t contributing to deterioration, what is?” Trong asked.

Kien, who is known for his nationalist views, wrote in response that Trong only had the right to criticize members of the Communist Party.

“You are the general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party. If you want to use the word deterioration, then you can only use it in reference to people who are Party members,” he wrote.

“If you and your comrades want to keep Article 4, maintain your leadership, politicize the military, and do not want pluralism or separation of powers, then it is your own wish and your Party’s. You can’t assume that is the wish of the Vietnamese people,” he said, adding that such views are also unlikely to represent the entirety of the Communist Party.

Kien also told RFA that despite the popularity of his article, he had done nothing especially courageous and that “anybody who is pushing for Vietnamese democracy has to make the same sacrifices I have.”

“I’m not surprised by the decision to fire me. I understand and sympathize with the leaders of the newspaper … I would like people to sympathize with the newspaper—don’t strongly criticize them, because if I were them I might have done the same,” he said.

He said he was “ready for anything” that he might face because of his decision to write the article, but said he hoped that everybody—from ordinary Vietnamese people to the leaders of government—might learn to be more open-minded and accepting of ideas different from their own.

“I’m not worried for myself, but I worry about my family—my wife, my child, and my parents. I understand the path I have chosen.” Kien said.

“My words are for everybody … In a free country, [what I did] is a normal thing. I hope we can all join hands to push for freedom and democracy in Vietnam.”

Call for change

Kien said in his article that no Communist Party document backed up Trong’s claims about moral deterioration being linked to calls for reforms.

“There is no such article that says removing Article 4 constitutes deterioration, or that pluralism and the depoliticizing of the military amounts to deterioration. Only party corruption, or when party policy works against the benefit of the people, can it be called deterioration,” he said.

In addition to the removal of Article 4, Kien called for a conference to set up a new constitution to better “represent the people’s spirit, not the Party’s” and for the implementation of a multiparty system in Vietnam.

He expressed his support for the separation of powers with an emphasis on a system that increases autonomy for local government, the elimination of state-owned corporations, and the depoliticizing of the military.


Vietnamese journalist fired after commentary about party chief

A journalist is fired from his job for writing a commentary criticising Vietnam’s leaders for failing to address problems within the party

Vietnam’s government has asked its citizens to debate planned revisions to the country’s constitution. But when journalist Nguyen Dac Kien weighed in on his blog, he discovered the limits of its willingness for discussion. His state-run paper fired him the next day.

Kien had taken issue with a statement by the Communist Party chief in which he said discussions over the revisions should not include questions over the role of the party.

In a post on Monday that went viral, he wrote that the party chief had no right to talk to the people of Vietnam like this, and that state corruption was the real problem.

Kien said he wasn’t surprised by his firing, announced on Wednesday in an article on page 2 of the Family and Society, the paper where he worked.

“I knew that there would be consequences,” Kien said. “I have always expected bad things to happen to me. The struggle for freedom and democracy is very long and I want to go to the end of that road, and I hope I can.”

The struggle for freedom and democracy is very long and I want to go to the end of that road, and I hope I can

Vietnam opened up its economy in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union deprived it of a vital economic partner and ally.

But under an authoritarian regime, government critics, free speech activists and those regarded as dissidents can be locked up for many years.

The emergence of the internet as an arena of free and uncontrollable expression, coupled with a stuttering economy, has led to new pressures but few think the regime’s grip on power is seriously weakening.

The government is revising the constitution for the first time since 1992, citing the need to speed up development.

Perhaps the most significant change in the draft on the government’s website is the removal of language stipulating that the state sector “plays the leading” role in the national economy. That could help the government in its pledge to restructure the country’s lumbering, corruption-riddled and unproductive state-owned sector, which eats up much of the national budget and has been blamed for the economic difficulties.

The government has asked for public discussion on the revisions, even opening up its website for comments. In response, several hundred well-known intellectuals, including a former justice minister, have circulated an online petition calling for multiparty elections, private land ownership, respect for human rights and the separation of the branches of government. More than 5,000 people have signed it.

Vietnam’s state-owned television station quoted the Communist Party’s general secretary, Nguyen Phu Trong (pictured), as saying those ideas amounted to the abolition of Article 4 of the constitution, which guarantees the political dominance of the party. He said that was a “political, ideological and ethical deterioration” and should be opposed.

Kien immediately took to his blog, writing, “You are the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam. If you want to use the word deterioration, you can only use it in relation to Communist Party members. You can’t say that about Vietnamese people.” He said there was nothing wrong with wanting political pluralism, and that “embezzlement and corruption” by party members was a bigger problem.

The Family and Society newspaper, owned by the ministry of health, said it fired Kien for “violating the operating rules of the newspaper and his labour contract”, adding that he alone was “accountable before the law for his behaviour”.

In a posting on his Facebook page after his firing, Kien said he understood the decision of the paper’s editors, saying, “If I were in their position, I may have acted the same”.


Vietnam: One-Party Rule Is Here To Stay, Says Leader

The chief of the Vietnam Communist Party has branded some recent opinions on draft amendments to the constitution as unacceptable.

Vietnamese Communist Party's General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong

Vietnamese Communist Party’s General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong

Party Secretary-General Nguyen Phu Trong said on Monday that some of the suggestions made by the public show “the decline of politics, thoughts and morality” in Vietnam.

Suggestions include an end to the Communist Party’s total control over state and society, a re-definition of the army as a non-political entity, and a multi-party political system.

Trong warned against posting such proposals on the internet or gathering signatures.

From January through March, the government is holding a public referendum on draft amendments to the constitution.

The proposed draft stipulates that the Communist Party of Vietnam controls the state and society. It also specifies that the army serves the Communist Party.

Trong told local authorities “not to let any individuals make use of the public referendum to distort facts, make up false information, or oppose our party and state.”

This is the first time Trong has spoken out against opposing views on the amendments, which have been discussed nationwide and on the internet.

Intellectuals, former high-ranking officials and dissidents submitted a petition to the National Assembly early this month.

The petition, available on the internet, says the constitution must first aim to ensure the safety, freedom, and happiness of the people and must limit the abuse of power. It says the people should have the final say on the nation’s constitution, and that the government’s proposed draft violates human and civil rights and the rule of law.

The petition says only a free, democratic and multi-party state would serve the common good of all the country’s citizens. It has drawn more than 5,600 signatures so far.

Among the signatories are Bishops Joseph Nguyen Chi Linh, vice-president of the Vietnam Bishops’ Conference, Paul Nguyen Thai Hop, head of the Episcopal Commision for Justice and Peace, and former archbishiop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet of Hanoi.

Phan Trung Ly, head of the Committee for Laws of the National Assembly, said in December that “all powers belong to the people so the people take an important role in building and amending the constitution.” It appears to some that Trong’s remarks are in opposition to his fellow politician.

Trong spoke to authorities from northern Phu Tho province on Monday, and his speech was aired on national television in the evening.