Imprisonment of musicians a new low for freedom of expression

Press release
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Viet Khang

Paris-Bangkok, 2 November 2012. The trial and harsh sentencing of two musicians on charges of “anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code is the latest example of Vietnam’s escalating assault on freedom of expression and its blatant violation of international human rights law, said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisation, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR).

After a trial that lasted less than half a day on 30 October, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City, heavily guarded by security forces, sentenced singer and composer Mr. Vo Minh Tri (known as Viet Khang), 34, and songwriter Mr. Tran Vu Anh Binh (known as Hoang Nhat Thong), 37, to four and six years respectively in prison followed by two years probationary detention. Binh and Viet Khang had been in continuous pre-trial detention since September 2011 and December 2011, respectively, much longer than is normally allowed under Article 120 of the Criminal Procedures Code, which limits such detention to four months.

Binh has written songs critical of the persecution of government critics, including a song called “Courage in the Dark Prison" (Nguc Toi Hien Ngang) in support of dissident blogger Mr. Nguyen Van Hai (aka Dieu Cay), who was sentenced only a month ago to 12 years in prison, along with fellow bloggers Mr. Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, who were also sentenced to harsh jail terms. Viet Khang has penned songs that criticise the glaring income inequality in Vietnam, and the government’s crackdowns on peaceful protests against Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. The court accused both Binh and Viet Khang of posting songs on a website run by an overseas Vietnamese opposition group called Patriotic Youth.

As a State party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Vietnam has a legal obligation under Article 19 of the Covenant to protect freedom of expression or opinion, regardless of frontiers, including through art,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

Vietnam in recent years has jailed dozens of dissidents for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression, often by invoking draconian provisions under the national security section of the Penal Code. As an ASEAN Member State, Vietnam is actively involved in the drafting of an ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, the current draft of which includes regressive provisions that mirror the draconian provisions under Vietnamese laws. These deeply flawed provisions of the Declaration would grant States sweeping discretionary power to restrict internationally recognised human rights on ill-defined grounds such as ‘national security.’ The Declaration is expected to be adopted at the upcoming ASEAN Summit from 18-20 November in Phnom Penh.

The convictions should be overturned, and the Vietnamese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Viet Khang, Tran Vu Anh Binh, and all other individuals imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression,” said Vo Van Ai, VCHR President.

Below are excerpts of two songs written by Viet Khang and posted online in August 2011, shortly before his first arrest and brief detention at a police office in Ho Chi Minh City in September 2011. The lyrics are translated from Vietnamese by the VCHR.

ANH LA AI (Who are you)

Tell me, who are you?
Why arrest me? What have I done wrong?
Tell me, who are you?
Why beat me without the slightest mercy?
Tell me, who are you?
To keep me from protesting
For love of this country, whose people have endured far too much!

Tell me, where are you?
Forbidding me from opposing a Chinese invasion
Tell me, where are you?
Why scold me in the language of my people?

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

I cannot sit still
While Vietnam collapses
And my people sink
Into an eternity of darkness

I cannot sit still
My children and the next generation deserve a future
Where will our roots be
When Vietnam is no longer in this world?


Vietnam… half a lifetime has already passed by
And now I can clearly see what life has become
since the war ended.
Mother Vietnam, your heart aches as you look at your children
Some plunged in abject poverty and suffering
Some rich, powerful and dishonest
Today, does Vietnam still exist or is it lost?
Chinese invaders strut arrogantly on our lands
On the Paracel and Spratly islands, how many innocent people have died
Shot down by the guns of the Chinese
As citizens of Vietnam
How can we ignore this invasion?
Let us join as one and respond to our nation’s call
Together, fearlessly
Old and young, men and women
Let’s raise our hands
To fight the invaders
And to fight those cowards who betrayed Vietnam.
Where is my Vietnam… Where is my Vietnam…

Press contact:
VCHR: Vo Tran Nhat, +33 1 45 98 30 85,
FIDH: Shiwei Ye, +66 89 673 5265,

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