By Sumit Galhotra/CPJ Asia Program Research Associate
Next week, the Committee to Protect Journalists will be honoring four journalists from around the world at the International Press Freedom Awards, an annual recognition of courageous reporting. As the awardees from Ecuador, Egypt, and Turkey make the journey to attend the awards and benefit dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on November 26, one of the awardees will be absent.
Blogger Nguyen Van Hai of Vietnam, popularly known by his penname Dieu Cay, will be spending the evening behind bars. Hai is serving a 12-year prison sentence under a vague law barring propaganda against the state in connection with his politically sensitive blog posts. His blog posts touched on politically sensitive issues, including government corruption and protests against China, which disputes Vietnam's claim to nearby maritime territories.
In prison, Hai has endured solitary confinement and waged a hunger strike. His prison visits are heavily restricted, and his family members say his health has deteriorated to such a degree that he is barely recognizable.
Hai’s daughter, Thi Thu Huong Nguyen, shared the following heartbreaking letter she wrote to her father shortly after he was sentenced to prison last year:
It has been a long time since we last talked; it has been forever since I last saw you. The past 5 years felt like a decade because time seems to go so slow. Every day we are waiting for you to return. Mom, brother, sister and I are missing you very much.
I remember your pictures. You love to travel the country and took many pictures of the scenery. In my memories, I only see buildings, traffic, pollution, and busy days at school. In your pictures I see wild mountains, sandy beaches, fruit trees, and beautiful rivers. We know you love photography, and I know it is because you love to capture the beauty of everything. You gave us so many memories to keep and to reminisce. I don’t think many of my friends my age have many photos of them as kids to look at. But you captured all of that for your children. In your pictures we see the love that you have for your country and its people.
You have always been an honest, gentle, kind hearted man, and you trust everybody to the point that life has become much more difficult for you. I have seen many people, including friends and neighbors, who took advantage of you. But along the way you have gained so many more friends with your kindness and your never-failing honesty.
What you have endured all this time really broke our hearts. This is the price you have to pay for your love? This is Unfair! This is Injustice! ...”
Read Huong’s full letter here.
Meanwhile, CPJ has launched a petition calling on the Vietnamese government to free Nguyen Van Hai. We hope you will add your name to help Huong reunite with her father.
Sumit Galhotra is the research associate for CPJ's Asia program. He served as CPJ's inaugural Steiger Fellow and has worked for CNN International, Amnesty International USA, and Human Rights Watch. He has reported from London, India, and Israel and the Occupied Territories, and specializes in human rights and South Asia.
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