Wednesday, November 14, 2018, 10:27 (GMT+7)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018, 16:37 (GMT+7)
Rights to freedom of speech and press, and access to information and citizens’ obligations

Vietnam’s legal framework for citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and press, and access to information is technically adequate, synchronous and completely squared with international laws on human rights in which it clearly stipulates citizens’ rights and obligations and restrictions to these rights in specific circumstances for the sake of national interests and others’ legitimate rights and interests.

1. The relationship between the rights to freedom of speech and press, and access to information and citizens’ obligations. According to all of international and domestic legal documents, the definition of “right” always includes rights and obligations in which the rights to freedom of speech and press, and access to information and citizens’ obligations are a fundamental one enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and institutionalized in the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” (1966), which specifies rights and duties of beneficiaries of rights to freedom of speech and the press. Accordingly, citizens have the rights to freedom of speech and to the use of press and information facilities, the Internet, and social networks prescribed by the law. Yet, those who exercise these rights have an obligation to observe the provisions of the law and accept restrictions to these rights. The exercise of these rights must be associated with obligations and special responsibilities and may be subject to certain restrictions in order to respect rights and prestige of other persons and protect national security, public order and societal health or morality.

In Vietnam, “the right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and the right of access to information, the right to assembly, the right to association, and the right to demonstrate” have been stipulated in the Constitution of the socialist Republic of Vietnam (2013) and institutionalized in many laws and decrees, namely the Press Law (2016); Law on Access to Information (2016); Decree No 72/2013/NĐ-CP, dated15-07-2013 by the Government on management, supply and use of Internet services and online information. Those assert and institutionalize our Party and State’s consistent viewpoints on respecting and guaranteeing the exercise of rights to freedom of speech and the press, and access to information. The right to access to information is specified more widely; on the one hand, information is made public by state agencies in a passive manner; on the other hand, information is provided by state agencies and organizations as requested in an active manner. In cyberspace, our State promulgated provisions on the rights to freedom of speech and the press, and access to information in which citizens have a right to use Internet services with the exception of banned services prescribed by the law and have an obligation to abide by regulations on information safety and security; and take responsibility for their content on social networks, etc.

 Conference to introduce the Press Law of 2016 to Northern
provinces and cities    (photo: nhandan.com.vn)

Yet, like people’s other rights, the exercise of the rights to freedom of speech and press, and access to information must be within the framework of the law and                
prescribed by the law; clearly stipulates the relationship between citizens’ rights and obligations; “must not infringe on national interests and lawful rights and interests of other persons”. Therefore, “the right to access to information shall be restricted in compliance with the laws, and if it is deemed necessary to protect the national defense, national security, social order and safety, social ethics, and the community health”. The acts of posting and publishing information to libel and negate governments; to confuse the public; to falsify history and negate revolutionary achievements; to offend the Homeland and national heroes; to slander and damage the reputation of agencies and organizations, and honour and dignity of individuals, etc. must be handled by the law. The right to access to information is closely associated with the regulations on classifying information accessed by citizens and disallowed to be supplied by agencies and organizations. Thus, “citizens’ rights and obligations are inseparable; “special obligations and responsibilities” or “certain restrictions” prescribed by Vietnamese laws are entirely squared with international laws on human rights.

At present, the right to freedom of speech and the press in Vietnam is not merely properly guaranteed, but acts as an active factor to combat societal negative manifestations. Before being discovered by competent authorities, numerous corruption cases have been exposed by the press as evidenced by Trinh Xuan Thanh’s corruption case. In recent years, mass organizations and Homeland Fronts have taken active part in providing supervision and feedback on state policies. “Individuals and organizations’ rights to comment on domestic and global situations” and to offer supervision and feedback have been encouraged and respected. However, offering feedback must be objective without detriment to people, society, and the nation.

2. Resolutely combating and seriously handling the act of misusing the right to freedom of speech and press. Recent years have seen the emergence of so-called “non-violent protest” and “crowd effect” by some “dissidents”. The violations of Vietnamese laws by “dissidents” have been circulated and supported by the Western media through repeated rhetoric, saying that Vietnam has “suppressed the right to freedom of speech, the press, and the Internet” and infringed “human rights”, etc. Those are irrational and blatant since there is no legal provision on so-called “dissidents” by the Western press in Vietnamese laws. As a result, there is no legal provision on an offence against “dissidents”. Yet, in reality, some self-proclaimed “dissidents” abused the right to freedom of speech to spread distorted contents in a bid to oppose our State and socialist regime on the Internet, namely Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien, Tran Hoang Phuc, Tran Thi Nga, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, etc. who merited heavy prison sentences for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 88, the Penal Code (1999). They had to pay the price for abusing freedom of speech and the press to infringe Vietnamese laws. Before the court, they argued that they had just been “dissidents”, lawfully fighting for justice in a “non-violent” manner. That was not totally the case in practice. They had posted many videos and clips on the Internet, defaming governments, fabricating news, and distorting the truth; taking advantage of freedom and democracy rights to infringe upon national interests, legal rights and benefits of organisations and citizens in society. In other words, those “dissidents” had been seriously penalized for their violations of the law.

Globally, the realities have shown that rebellions against a regime usually break out in stages, commencing with “non-violent” protests, then evolving into order and security disruptions via “crowd effect”, and finishing with rebellions against local to central governments. Moreover, the leaders of those rebellions also call for the intervention of foreign forces. This is a “classic script” of rebellious activities that have happened in some countries in recent decades.

For our nation, hostile forces have fully abused the right to freedom of speech, especially the right to Internet access to slander and defame the leadership role of ruling Communist Party of Vietnam and oppose our State and socialist regime via blatant and misleading statements, namely “Hanoi regime is authoritarian and dictatorial”; the Communist Party of Vietnam “dominates” people’s power and “above the law”, etc. Like international laws, the law on freedom of speech is always intended to protect social regimes. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all peoples have the right of self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Accordingly, peoples have the right of self-determination to their political regime of choice; the law of every nation stipulates its citizens’ rights and obligations. Furthermore, the law is always political, historical, and culturally distinctive. In our country, the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam is enshrined in Article 4 of the 2013 Constitution, and recognized by the National Assembly, the highest representative body of the People and the highest body of State power. The Party is not merely the leading force of the State and society, but serves the People, submits to People’s supervision, and operates within the framework of the Constitution and the law. In terms of political system, pursuant to Article 2 of the 2013 Constitution, 1. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a socialist rule of law State of the People, by the People and for the People; 2. The people are the masters of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; all state powers belong to the people whose foundation is the alliance between the working class, the peasantry and the intelligentsia; 3. The State powers are unified and delegated to state bodies, which shall collaborate with and control one another in the exercise of the legislative, executive and judiciary powers”. Distortions of advocating “multi-party political system” and adopting Western-style “separation of power” model are not only an artifice of defaming our regime, but an immature awareness of diversity of social models across the world today.

Taken together, in theoretical, legal, and practical terms, Vietnamese laws have been squared with international regulations on human rights; respected and guaranteed human rights in general, and the rights to freedom of speech, press, and access to information in particular. Citizens’ rights and obligations to the exercise of the rights to freedom of speech, press, and access to information are not only unified, but closely correlated. Citizens who wish to fully exercise the rights to freedom of speech, press, and access to information must have an obligation to abide by the provisions of the law in order to protect social regimes, State, and other people’s rights and interests. On the contrary, these rights are restricted or deprived of in the event of law violations.

Cao Duc Thai, PhD  

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