The Vietnamese government is routinely jailing political dissidents and internet bloggers who question the Communist Party’s policies

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The Department of Immigration says boat arrivals from Vietnam are at their highest level in 20 years. Eighty four Vietnamese asylum seekers were picked up just north of Broome this week bringing this year’s total number of Vietnamese arrivals to more than 750. Many say they’re fleeing persecution from the one party communist State but most who fall out with the regime can’t flee. Often unseen, more than 50 political dissidents and Internet bloggers have been jailed so far this year for questioning the Communist Party’s policies. Our South East Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel has been in Hanoi meeting bloggers and dissidents in secret and she filed this exclusive report.

ZOE DANIEL, REPORTER: Nguyen Van Dai lives his life under house arrest. After four years in prison for human rights activism and dissident activity he’s out of jail but his movements are limited and closely watched.

NGUYEN VAN DAI, BROTHERHOOD FOR DEMOCRACY: If I want to go out my area, it will take about one kilometre square I have to get permission from the local government. If I go out of my area without permission the police, the security officer may arrest me.

ZOE DANIEL: Today he snuck out to meet us. He planned to bring a friend but his phone is off and he can’t be found. We later hear that the secret police prevented him from leaving his house.

(To Nguyen): When did you speak to him last?

NGUYEN VAN DAI: Yesterday.

ZOE DANIEL: This is life for political activists in Vietnam where heavy handed intolerance of dissent has seen more than 50 people jailed this year. Those who are not in prison spend their lives dodging the authorities as they attempt to raise questions about government policies and human rights in a country that’s struggling to enforce authoritarian rule on an increasingly better informed community.

NGUYEN VAN DAI: The political system is very poor and is controlled by only Communist Party. That is not good for country. We need a multiparty system in Vietnam. This is the rise of Vietnamese people and it’s fair for everyone in Vietnam.

ZOE DANIEL: There are a number of key issues that have triggered recent protests in Vietnam and with them the arrest of activists and bloggers who promote discussion on the Internet. Chinese claims on disputed territory in the South China Sea have sparked angry scenes and mass arrests by the Vietnamese authorities who don’t tolerate street protests. Grandmother Bui Thi Minh Hang spent five months in jail after she joined protests against land being seized for development by Chinese companies.

BUI THI MINH HANG, BLOGGER (translation): I had to lie in between people who had AIDS. They were bleeding, mucous was coming out and that’s how they tortured me by placing me in these conditions.

ZOE DANIEL: She cut herself with a razor blade to protest against the treatment that she received. She’s aware that by continuing to blog and by talking to us she’s risking being jailed again.

BUI THI MINH HANG (translation): I am no longer scared.

ZOE DANIEL: There are countless stories of mistreatment and brutality, perpetrated by Vietnamese security forces. Nguyen Hoang Vi is a blogger who campaigns for freedom of religion, another hot button issue for authorities intent on quashing dissent and difference. She was recently vaginally searched during a so called ID check and in another incident beaten unconscious by police. Her participation in a human rights picnic where she distributed the universal declaration of human rights to which Vietnam is a signatory resulted in her sister being beaten up. Her elderly mother was burnt by police with a cigarette. When Hoang Vi meets us she’s been on the run for a week, unable to go home because it’s surrounded by security forces.

NGUYEN HOANG VI, BLOGGER (translation): There are also other incidents, for example, they drove straight into my motorbike and pretended it was an accident. They have also stopped me on the street and assaulted me and they have used many other tactics, but up until now the only thing they have not done is to put me in jail. The rest they have pretty much done.

ZOE DANIEL: The bloggers have taken great risks to meet with us and it has to be done behind closed doors. If we’re caught we will be deported. But those who speak to us could be jailed for up to seven years under a catch all law that’s used to prosecute those who infringe upon the interests of the State by abusing the rights to freedom of speech, press, belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms. Yet these young people who call themselves the Change Club choose to meet us in the open.

ANONYMOUS ACTIVIST (translation): This is how I see it. The biggest issue facing Vietnam in the democratisation process is not going to be from the Government but from society.

ZOE DANIEL: But that’s something that the Government of Vietnam is going all out to prevent. Zoe Daniel, Lateline.

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