As I post pearls of wisdom on my blog, including righteous criticism about this country’s follies, I rarely stop to think how fortunate I am to be able to do so freely and fearlessly. How fortunate I am to be doing it in this country.

Every once in a while I get a reminder. Like this week when I read on the BBC website that Vietnamese blogger Pham Doan Trang had been arrested and charged with “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing information, materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” Ms. Trang’s crimes included advocating for democracy, press freedom and the rule of law. A wicked lady indeed. Her arrest came shortly after the 24th annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue.

Ms. Trang was following in the footsteps of the co-founder of the Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Mother Mushroom. Her delightful moniker derives from the nickname of her youngest daughter.

In 2017, Ms. Quynh was sentenced to 10 years in jail for distributing propaganda against the state; however, in 2018 she was released from prison and exiled. She now lives in the U.S. where she declares she will “never keep silent” in her fight for democracy in Vietnam.

We might say these ladies are fortunate that they avoided the fate of Russian opposition blogger and activist Alexei Navalny. Navalny barely escaped death after being poisoned by the nerve agent Novichok, a Putin specialty.

Then there’s the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, currently serving a 10-year sentence for criticizing the Saudi Arabian regime. He was convicted in 2013 of “insulting Islam through electronic channels” and sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes. So far, he has received only 50, the remainder delayed because of his ill health.

But we mustn’t conclude without saying a few things about the biggest jailer of journalists in the world—China. For example, there is state media journalist turned anti-corruption blogger, Chen Jieren, who was sentenced to 15 years earlier this year after publishing two articles on his blog claiming corruption by Hunan party officials.

When I was a kid and didn’t finish my supper, my mother would remark that I was lucky, people in China were starving. Well, they are still starving in China, not for food but for the right to freely express themselves. All 1.4 billion of them. And they are now adding another 7.5 million in Hong Kong. 

Summing up the populations of all the countries that keep their people on a leash presents us with a staggering number of folk who don’t dare do what I do every day without thinking—simply express a point of view. Canada, I think, is a very good place to blog.

2 thoughts on “Mother Mushroom, blogging and freedom of speech”
  1. Bill, I sometimes wonder if we’re expecting too much from countries such as Vietnam. Considered our own tortured journey to democracy over eight centuries from Runnymede to the achievement of universal suffrage. There were many advances along the way but a good several reversals as well.

    Democracy, as you well know, is not a “one size fits all” proposition. It’s not a natural fit in some societies with no experience of it. It can take a lot of Ms. Trangs over more than a few generations to achieve anything resembling liberal democracy. I wonder if it’s not a sign of progress that she wasn’t held for the full 10-year term of her sentence but was released into exile in one year. Perhaps Hanoi saw this as a long-term problem they didn’t need.

    And what about the everyday Vietnamese. How many crave democracy today? How many countries achieve meaningful democracy without years of turmoil, often accompanied by some degree of violence?

    I sometimes wonder how cheaply many Americans hold their democracy. How can someone embrace democracy and simultaneously support Donald Trump or tolerate gerrymandering, voter suppression, the Electoral College and the manner in which the Senate is constituted? The United States, according to scholarly research, may have already seen democracy supplanted by plutocracy and yet the plebs aren’t taking to the streets with pitchforks and torches.

  2. Actually, MoS, I was posting about freedom more than democracy. They aren’t the same thing, of course, even though democracy requires a high degree of freedom. It’s not so much the other way around—witness the U.S. which is very free but, as you point out, not so democratic.

    Most Vietnamese may, unlike the ladies I’ve mentioned, not crave democracy, but once tasted it’s seductive, as we’ve seen in Hong Kong and in China pre-Tiananmen. It took us a long time to develop modern democracy because we had few exemplars. Today there are many and it’s keeping dictators up nights.

    As for our democracy, it’s far from ideal. I’m just glad I’m free to say so.

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