Vietnam Squeezes Activists on Facebook and on Stage: Pressure on dissident singer who met Barack Obama reflects broad crackdown 

On the front page of the Wall Street Journal today as Trump arrives in Hanoi. This article highlights the abuses of authority I have faced since nominating myself to run in the National Assembly elections last year and meeting Obama after I was unfairly rejected to run. As usual the focus centres more on repression than resistance although The Dissidents do get a mention!

 

 

James Hookway

HANOI—Vietnamese singer Do Nguyen Mai Khoi came face to face with the reach of her country’s security forces after she met with President Barack Obama in Hanoi in May last year. 

Ms. Mai Khoi was among several dissidents who were invited to meet with Mr. Obama during his visit. She had recently tried but failed to make the list of independent candidates for the country’s legislature, which does little to challenge the ruling Communist Party. 

When she arrived home, four policemen knocked at her door and tried to make her acknowledge that she owned a Facebook page which criticized the security forces. She refused, fearing she would be arrested on the spot. 

“They have called my parents in for questioning, raided two of my concerts, asked my landlord to kick me out of my house, refused my permit to live in Hanoi, and put me under constant surveillance,” said Ms. Mai Khoi, who is now 33. “Some of my best friends are no longer friends with me,” she said.

The pressure Ms. Mai Khoi faces reflects what human-rights groups say is the largest and most persistent crackdown in the communist state in years. Vietnamese officials didn’t respond to requests for comment for this article. 

It comes as Vietnam is again in the spotlight as the host of this year’s annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. President Donald Trump used a speech at the summit on Friday to champion his America-first trade policy. 

Amnesty International says Vietnam is currently holding at least 84 political prisoners or dissidents for crimes such as “spreading propaganda against the state” or “abusing democratic freedoms.” In many cases they have been prosecuted for posting critical comments on Facebook. 

The latest blogger to be convicted, a university student named Phan Kim Khanh, was given a six-year prison sentence last month. The 11-year-old daughter of another jailed dissident, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, wrote to first lady Melania Trump to help free her. Ms. Trump awarded Ms. Quynh the State Department’s International Women of Courage Award in March, and the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi has lobbied for the release of Ms. Quynh and other dissidents.

Ms. Mai Khoi, who is now putting together her first album with her new band, The Dissidents, has drawn comparisons to performers such as Lady Gaga and Russia’s activist group Pussy Riot. To some extent, her fame has helped protect her. Diplomats and executives such as Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent Alphabet Inc., have sought out her views.

...... (click on picture above to read the full article).

Mekong Review profile about me 

 

The singing dissident  

Nguyen Qui Duc 

There’s the trademark dimple, a coy, sometimes mischievous smile, a look of innocence and an expression of wonder in the eyes. Mai Khoi’s face hasn’t changed much since I first met her some fifteen years ago.  

She’d just released her first CD. Love, losses and a fragile heart were the obligatory things she and countless other lounge singers in Ho Chi Minh City gave to their fans in search of clichés and other familiar tunes. Over the years, Mai Khoi gained a good measure of popularity, and for a while became more daring: the Lady Gaga look, the pink hair, the bra-less stage appearances, the sexy and provocative stage persona.  

But her statements have now changed. In a recent concert in Hanoi, her adoptive city, the provocative outfits had been discarded, replaced by a traditional Vietnamese tunic. But she wears it with punk-era boots. It’s now the words in her songs that are provocative:  

Let’s speak our voice  
Step out from the fear  
Step out from the silence  
Speak the voice from our hearts  
An awareness that erases all doubts  
Step out of our exile  
We have the rights to step out from ignorance  
After the years of silence  
Our voice,  
Let’s speak our voice  
Our strength … raise our voice, speak, sing, scream  
Even as someone oppresses us  
We still raise our voice.

 

 

Police raiding my show on July 22, 2017 

Police raid Mai Khoi and The Dissidents' show on July 22, 2017

On Saturday July 22 my band Mai Khoi and The Dissidents performed at Phu Sa Lab studio (the only venue that still invites me to perform) in Hanoi. The previous day, studio owner Nguyen Nhat Ly, was forced to report to the police of Quang An Ward, Ho Tay District. They told him that he was required by law to request permission to organise any performance at least five days in advance and they threatened to shut our show down and fine him if he refused to cancel it. He replied that the show was being organized in a private space and tickets were not being sold, and as such no permission was required.  We went ahead with the show and toward the end 30 police and cultural inspectors raided the studio. The police requested to talk to both the owner of the studio and the building. During this interaction they informed Nguyen Nhat Ly that they had permission to inspect all cultural activities in Tay Ho District of Hanoi. A lawyer present checked the documents the police brought with them and noted several inconsistencies in addition to the fact that they did not have a warrant to inspect the premises, only a general plan to inspect cultural activities in Tay Ho. The police informed Nguyen Nhat Ly and the building owner to report back for another meeting on Monday July 24. Nhat Ly attended the meeting this afternoon at 2 p.m. and was fined for organizing a performance without notifying the authorities in advance. 

    In other developments, on Saturday before the concert a police officer from Quang An Ward of West Lake called me to request I come and pick up my residential registration that allows me to reside in Hanoi. Today I met with him and he told me that the papers were not ready yet as his boss, who was awaiting the results of a personal history from police in my hometown of Cam Ranh, had yet to sign off on them. Shortly after leaving the police station, an employee of Toan Tien Co (https://web.facebook.com/toantienco.hanoi/), the company who leases my apartment to me, informed me that the police had contacted the company to request they cut my rental contract and make me leave my house. A few days later I was forced out of my house.

 

Video of the raid

 

Radio Free Asia report about the raid

Channel News Asia report in which I am interviewed while moving house

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/videos/vietnam-s-dissident-voices-call-for-democracy-9224826