Musicians jailed in Vietnam

In a case which echoes that of Pussy Riot but will no doubt receive far less international attention, two musicians were jailed in Vietnam on 30th October for writing anti-government songs.

After 10 months in detention and a trial that lasted only five hours Vo Minh Tri – known as Viet Khang – (aged 34) and Tran Vu Anh Binh (aged 37) were sentenced to four and six years jail by a court in Ho Chi Minh City on charges of spreading propaganda against the state. They also face a further two years under house arrest when they have served their jail sentences.

By contrast with the Pussy Riot trial, which was conducted in the full glare of the media spotlight, the court proceedings in Vietnam were shrouded in secrecy. The court would not supply details of their alleged crimes and the musicians’ lawyer said that a request to play their songs in court was turned down by the judge.

Their lawyer also told the media that the musicians had admitted links to a banned political group but had “no political intention” – again in marked contrast to Pussy Riot where the three women used the trial as a platform for airing their criticism of Putin and expounding upon their political philosophy; indeed their whole defence rested on the argument that their acts were political, rather than being motivated by religious hatred as alleged.

The two musicians allegedly posted their dissident songs on a Vietnamese opposition website run by a group of expatriate activists known as Patriotic Youth. Khang’s songs include one which is critical of Vietnam’s allegedly submissive policy towards China on territorial claims in the South China Sea and another which condemns a police crackdown on anti-China activists. Binh has written songs about the imprisonment of dissidents and encouraging non-violent protest against Vietnam’s single (Communist) party rule.

Amnesty International have criticised the sentences, saying “This is a ludicrous way to treat people just for writing songs. These men are prisoners of conscience, detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression through their songs and non-violent activities and should be freed.”

Human Rights Watch said “Jailing song-writers is an outrageous new turn of events that reveals the totality of the government’s intolerance for those raising uncomfortable issues. First critics, then bloggers, then poets, and now musicians. The international community can no longer stand by quietly as these free speech activists are picked off one by one by Vietnam’s security apparatus.”

This isn’t an isolated case. In September a court in Vietnam jailed three bloggers for between 4 to 12 years for “anti-state propaganda”, which was condemned by the United States, EU and international rights groups.

It’s unlikely we’ll hear much more about these two musicians. They don’t have the Pussy Riot ‘brand’ or their powerful polemic. It’s pretty difficult to find photos of them, or videos or recordings of their performances. But they are just two of many artists who are being imprisoned around the world for daring to express themselves through their songs.

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