Clara Zid, January 2020
She stopped working as a lawyer in California five years ago and started volunteering with a group of human rights in Vietnam to advocate for a democratic movement in the country. Vi Tran co-founded the independent magazine Luat Khoa in 2014 and, in 2017, the newspaper The Vietnamese , where she is editor-in-chief. Her mission: “To speak up for those that can’t”.
Vi Tran does not regret leaving her job in California and moving to Taiwan. A lot of people, including her own family, she says, don’t see things this way: “They may think that I am crazy, but there is one life to live”. Vi thinks that the Vietnamese people deserves a better regime: “I believe all Vietnamese should have their human rights respected”.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Vietnam is the 6th most censored country on the world, with 11 journalists imprisoned. Reporters Without Borders states that in Vietnam “all media follow the Communist Party’s orders”. The only source of independently-reported information is bloggers and citizen-journalists, who are being subjected to persecution and prison.
“I admire the bloggers who went to jail to keep their faith and belief in free press and freedom of expression”, Vi says. Pham Doan Trang, Luat Khoa’s co-founder, was also detained in February 2018 and now she lives at an undisclosed location. Except for her, the writers and editors of Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese have not been persecuted. Vi assures that her team takes security very seriously: “We could relocate our colleagues if we think they face danger”.
But Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese have suffered another types of persecution: the websites are blocked in Vietnam since December 2017, one month after the birth of The Vietnamese. Vi suspects that was “because we attempted to get more publications in English, to give international readers about Vietnam, so the government blocked us”.
Why are Luat Khoa and The Vietnamese so uncomfortable to the government? Luat Khoa is the “Law Magazine”, it talks about law, geopolitics, human rights and so and is written in Vietnamese. It has about ten regular writers, and five part-time writers that work in The Vietnamese as well. Some of them (30%) are lawyers and 80% live in Vietnam.
“We are trying to help people that want political pluralism in Vietnam”
The Vietnamese is different from Luat Khoa. It is written in English and it acts on the basis that information about Vietnam is rather limited, foreigners often look into things that were produced by state-owned media. Vi says: “We needed to have an English site, to share with our international friends what is going on in Vietnam and give people a better idea of our movement”. The intention is “to educate people online via a website”.
According to Vi, Vietnam is “an authoritarian regime that controls every single aspect of people’s life; there is no open Internet, it is under government control, so people are wanting the information”. There are revolutionary and oppositional forces in Vietnam, people that want to see changes, that want political pluralism. “We are trying to help them”, she says.
But how can you help people when your websites are blocked? That’s not a problem for Vi Tran: “We exist because thank you to Qurium we have a mirror site. Qurium has been amazing for us because we got the help when we needed it, we are very grateful”. And also, there is Facebook. Something she has learned in this five years of activism is that “people want to know and they will find a way”.
Because of her current health problems, Vi Tran lives in California again. But she still works for The Vietnamese: “I am so grateful to be able to bring my compatriots stories to a larger stage and advocate for their rights”, she says. And adds: “I have tremendous love for my country and my people, no matter how far away I live away from them”.
“Government blocks us but people want to access our information and find a way”.
Hers is a matter of pure patriotic vision: “I have seen a lot of courageous people from Vietnam keep fighting for our human rights and civil rights, and I want to join them to push our democracy forwards”. For her, living to contribute to her country is no regrets: “I will continue to advocate and fight for Vietnam’s democracy until the day I pass away”.