Towards a Free Media in Vietnam?


Every single newspaper, radio station, and television broadcast in Vietnam is officially controlled by the Vietnamese Communist Party or government. But thanks to social media and news outlets based outside the country, Vietnamese citizens are increasingly gaining access to independent sources of news.

Faced with a rapidly changing media landscape, Vietnam’s authorities rely on a combination of restrictive laws, Internet controls and outright repression to stifle the free flow of information. Vietnam is second in the world only to China in the number of jailed netizens. 

Given the economic impacts of a stifled Internet, online censorship is not only a human rights issue but increasingly a business issue. The business ramifications of Internet censorship have increasingly come to the forefront as the U.S. and Vietnamese governments negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 

In marking World Press Freedom Day, join bloggers from Vietnam and other experts working to expand freedom of expression for a discussion on the challenges and opportunities in promoting a free media in Vietnam.

Confirmed speakers:

Vietnam-based bloggers and digital activists*

Le Thanh Tung (freelance journalist and digital activist)

Ngo Nhat Dang (freelance journalist and contributor to the BBC Vietnamese section)

Nguyen Dinh Ha (blogger and digital activist)

Nguyen Thi Kim Chi (actress, director and playwright)

To Oanh (blogger and former contributor to state-owned newspapers) 

Scott Busby, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Do Hoang Diem, Chairman, Viet Tan

Libby Liu, President, Radio Free Asia

Brett Solomon, Executive Director, Access

Meredith Whittaker, Program Manager, Google 

*Highlighting the challenges faced by Vietnam’s online community, Hanoi authorities blocked three of the invited activists from traveling: Pham Chi Dung, a writer and civil society advocate, had his passport arbitrarily confiscated in February and until now, has been banned from traveling; Nguyen Lan Thang, a blogger, was stopped at Hanoi Noi Bai Airport and prevented from boarding his flight on April 5; and Anna Huyen Trang, a citizen journalist for Vietnamese Redemptorists’ News, was stopped at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhat Airport on April 13 and physically harassed by security police.

Date and time: Thursday, May 1st Time: 12:00 – 2:00pm (lunch will be served from 12:00 – 12:30pm) Location: Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St NW (Suite 300), Washington, DC. RSVP

The US State Department is “deeply concerned” by the Vietnamese authorities’ decision to uphold the conviction of human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan to 30 months in prison on tax evasion charges. 

Quan was previously arrested in 2007 for three months on his return from a five-month Reagan-Fascell fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.


Assignment China: Tiananmen Square

US China Tiananmen PhotoThe Tiananmen Square crisis in 1989 was a turning point for China. Weeks of student-led demonstrations ended in a bloody military crackdown, with far-reaching consequences not only for China’s development but for its relations with the rest of the world. 

Assignment China: Tiananmen Square, produced by the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California and narrated by former CNN Beijing bureau chief Mike Chinoy, tells the behind-the-scenes story of the reporters who covered the dramatic events in Beijing that spring. It features interviews with most of the leading American journalists who were there, as well as diplomats and scholars, and contains rare video clips and photos from that tumultuous time. 

Interact at the post-screening discussion with these experts: 

Edward McCord (moderator), Director, Sigur Center for Asian Studies; Associate Professor of History and International Affairs; Director, Taiwan Education and Research Program 

Dan Southerland, Executive Editor, Radio Free Asia 

Jim Mann, former Beijing correspondent for the Los Angeles Times



Doors Open: 6:15 pm 

Event: 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm

Funger Hall

2201 G Street, NW; 6th Floor -

Washington, DC 20052 


How to fight for the public square

The agora in ancient Athens

The agora in ancient Athens

As citizens gather in city squares from Caracas to Kiev to Cairo, governments are showing symptoms of agoraphobia, which literally means fear of an agora or “place of assembly,” according to Douglas Rutzen and Brittany Grabel of the International Center for Not-for-profit Law.

This phenomenon is occurring in countries across the political spectrum, but in cases of authoritarian agoraphobia, governments have simply destroyed public squares, they write for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab.

For example, in Bahrain, the government bulldozed Pearl Square to stymie the country’s 2011 reformist movement and prevent citizens from assembling there. In other countries, governments have erected physical barriers to restrict access to civic space. In Egypt, the military recently erected ten-foot iron gates to control access to Tahrir Square, while in Uganda, the police installed barbed wire to keep citizens out of Constitution Square, Kampala’s only public square. On March 20, 2014, the Turkish government blocked Twitter, restricting access to the digital agora.

Supplementing physical and electronic barriers, many governments are erecting legal barriers to civic space. In January 2014, Cambodia issued a blanket ban on all public gatherings. Days later, Viktor Yanukovych’s Ukraine enacted legislation imposing five year prison sentences on protestors if they blocked government buildings, and allowing the authorities to seize the cars of people participating in “Automaidan” protests. Shortly after, the Venezuelan government brought criminal charges, including arson and conspiracy charges to imprison citizens engaged in peaceful assemblies. These are but a few recent examples of the global agoraphobia pandemic.

According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, more than twenty countries have recently considered or enacted legal restrictions on the freedom of peaceful assembly.

Agoraphobia is a global contagion, and no country is immune. To address this pandemic, international institutions, governments, and civil society must embrace a holistic treatment plan.

First, global and regional institutions must enhance norms protecting peaceful assembly. International norms on the freedom of assembly are just beginning to take shape. The U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recently established a U.N. special rapporteur on the freedom of assembly. He has written three pioneering thematic reports, but his reports are not binding in international law. …..

Second, governments must reform their national laws and practices. International norms have little impact if they are not enshrined at the national level. …….Donor and experts with comparative expertise must be prepared to respond to appeals from countries requesting assistance. In addition, like-minded governments must increase their political support for multilateral initiatives, such as the Community of Democracies Working Group, which plays a critical role in mobilizing diplomatic engagement when restrictive laws are proposed.

Third, the international community must focus on frontlines. In many countries, security personnel receive limited or no training on how to manage protests in a peaceful, democratic manner. Under the auspices of the special rapporteur or another international body, an initiative should be launched to compile and share good practices, complemented by in-person training programs. …….


Rising Political Islam in Pakistan: Causes and Consequences

PakistanReligion, politics, and policy are inextricably linked in Pakistan, and together tied to Pakistan’s relationship with the United States. Pakistan embarked on its first democratic transition of power last year. The success of this experiment will hinge on how well Islamic parties—who are showing their strength within the political landscape—can contribute to civilian rule, shun violence, and mobilize support for political reform. However, these parties are diverse in their policy goals and political intentions and cannot be painted with a broad brush, as often occurs in the United States.

The speakers at this forthcoming event will provide a look at the rise of political Islam in Pakistan and how understanding these internal dynamics can help shape a better bilateral relationship.

April 14, 2014 – 2:30 pm, 1030 15th Street, NW, 12th Floor (West Tower), Washington, DC

A discussion with

Husain Haqqani

Author of Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding; and Senior Fellow and Director, South and Central Asia, Hudson Institute

Haroon K. Ullah

Author of Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding Islamic Parties, Political Violence, and Extremism in Pakistan; and Member, Policy Planning Staff

US Department of State

Moderated by

Shuja Nawaz

Director, South Asia Center

Atlantic Council


The Atlantic Council’s US-Pakistan Program is a comprehensive approach to US-Pakistan relations, focusing on the key areas of security, economic development, and public policy. The program explores these issues and their relevance in order to develop a long-term, continuous dialogue between the United States and Pakistan. This project is generously supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

On Twitter? Follow @ACSouthAsia and use #WagingPeace


Husain Haqqani is the former ambassador of Pakistan to Sri Lanka (1992–93) and the United States (2008–11). He is currently senior fellow and director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute and co-edits the journal Current Trends in Islamist Ideology published by Hudson Institute’s Center for Islam, Democracy, and Future of the Muslim World. Ambassador Haqqani is also director of the Center of International Relations and professor of the practice of international relations at Boston University. Ambassador Haqqani is the author of Magnificent Delusions: Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding.

Haroon Ullah joined the secretary’s Policy Planning Staff in November 2013. His portfolio includes public diplomacy and countering violent extremism. Previously, he served as director of the Community Engagement Office at the US Embassy in Islamabad. Prior to joining the State Department, Dr. Ullah served as a Belfer fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and focused on democratization, counter-terrorism, and religious political parties in the Middle East and South Asia. Dr. Ullah holds a BA from Whitman College, an MPA from Harvard, and a PhD from the University of Michigan. He also recently authored Vying for Allah’s Vote: Understanding Islamic Parties, Political Violence, and Extremism in Pakistan and Bargain from the Bazaar.

Human Rights in North Korea: An Address by Michael Kirby

nkgulag-300x202-150x150In March 2013, the 47 member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution to establish a commission of inquiry on human rights in North Korea. With a mandate to investigate “the systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in North Korea, the commission conducted public hearings and private interviews, and collected information from U.N. member states and entities. The commission submitted its report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March 2014, finding that “in many instances, the violations found entailed crimes against humanity based on state policies.”

On April 14, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) will host an address by Michael Kirby, chair of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea (COI), to present its findings and recommendations. Following the keynote address, Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics and an HRNK board member, will comment on the COI report and discuss policy implications for the United Nations and its member states, and possible impact on North Korea and its people.

Closing Remarks: Roberta Cohen, Co-Chair, Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings-LSE Project on Internal Displacement View Bio