The August 28 meeting between the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers and the German Embassy in Hanoi waswarm and supportive from the start when diplomats went out to greet the bloggers at the front gate in the presence of the at least 30 Vietnamese policemen surrounding the Embassy.
The meeting was scheduled to take place at 10am Wednesday. However, by early morning there were approximately 25 policemen stationed around the area. At 10am, as soon as the taxi carrying the bloggers stopped at the gate, those police mobbed the bloggers, with some pointing cameras at them. Two officers wanted to check ID from the bloggers before entering the Embassy even as officials and staff of the Embassy were welcoming them. Embassy staff accompanied bloggers inside preventing an ID check.
Five female bloggers attended the visit, including Dang Bich Phuong (aka. Phuong Bich), Le Hien Giang (Song Que – the countryside river), Le Thi Phuong Lan (Lan Le), Nguyen Hoang Vi (An Do Nguyen), and Dao Trang Loan (Hu Vo - nothingness). The talk was hosted by Mr. Felix Schwarz, Political Counselor and Consul, and Mr. Jonas Koll, First Secretary in charge of Culture, Media and Politics.
|From left to right: blogger Dang Phuong Bich, Nguyen Hoang Vi, Le Hien Giang, Le Thi Phuong Lan, Dao Trang Loan.|
“We are by your side”
The meeting with the German diplomats lasted for two hours in an atmosphere that was sympathetic and supportive. According to blogger Nguyen Hoang Vi, the bloggers had left the copy of Statement 258 in their taxi amid their hasty efforts to enter the Embassy so they failed to present it to the Embassy. However, “officials at the Embassy were very sympathetic, because they felt the danger that we bloggers confront, facing dozens of policemen with cameras. The Embassy said they had already printed Statement 258 and we can hand the copy to them in a symbolic act,” Vi told the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers.
Felix Schwarz and Jonas Koll were especially concerned about the repression that the bloggers have faced, including the obstructions they encountered on the way to the meeting. Both were “astounded” upon learning about human rights violations in Vietnam in the recent years.
|Representatives of German Embassy and the bloggers started the discussion.|
The bloggers themselves were surprised to hear that the German Embassy did not consider the August 16 appeal trial and the mild sentence against student Phuong Uyen as a general improvement of human rights in Vietnam, although they welcomed the decision as a positive sign in two individual cases.
Regarding Statement 258, which was released on July 18, 2013 by the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, the German Embassy much appreciated the neutral and concise language of the Statement. They believed that the statement would help garner the attention of the international community. They may also facilitate the Network’s presentation of its Statement at the 18th session of the UPR Working Group, held in Geneva in early 2014.
The bloggers expressed their gratitude to the Embassy. Blogger Nguyen Hoang Vi, however, stressed that the low ranking of Vietnam’s freedom of information, freedom of the press and freedom of expression in the world must actually be an issue for the Vietnamese themselves. “Only efforts of Vietnamese can change and improve the situation. But we do hope that the international community, with its power and diplomatic strength, can be helpful to us, especially in advocating for the abdication of the abusive Article 258,” said Vi.
All five bloggers present said they felt moved and greatly encouraged by the caring and support of Embassy. Although the support was nonverbal, it seemed everything said and done was meant to say that the Embassy took the side of the bloggers and their struggle for human rights in Vietnam - expressively the Embassy spoke out for freedom of expression, assembly, and opinion. These freedoms were guaranteed under international (ICCPR) and domestic (constitution) law.
|Vietnamese bloggers handed the Statement 258 to Mr. Felix Schwarz, Political Counselor and Consul, and Mr. Jonas Koll, First Secretary in charge of Culture, Media and Politics.|
At the end of the meeting, the Embassy said they would work with EU and like minded partners to raise opinions urging the Vietnamese Government to step back from decree 72. The EU has already published a statement and sent a letter to Vietnamese authorities with regard to the decree. A like-minded demarche (EU, USA, Australia, Norway, New Zealand) has taken place a few days ago and the Freedom Online Coalition, to which Germany is a party, has publicaly critizised decree 72. The abolishment of Article 258 of the Penal Code as well as other laws restricting freedom of expression and opinion would be an important and positive step to reduce human rights violations.
It was late at noon, and the Vietnamese police were still “guarding” the Embassy, waiting for the bloggers to come out. The Embassy suggested taking the bloggers home in their official car, even arranging for some staff to accompany them. The bloggers, however, thought having the car was enough. They were loath to part. Felix Schwarz and Jonas Koll took the bloggers out to the car to see them off, also in the presence of many police staying there outside.