The truth will set you free — but it also might land you in jail. Such is the risk an activist will take, however. Why? Because at the end of the day, sitting idly by while injustice goes ignored is the greatest travesty there is. An individual who would likely agree with this notion is Nguyen Van Hoa, a 22-year-old blogger.
Last year, a Taiwan-owned steel factory suffered a fatal chemical spill. Cyanide was one of many contaminants flushed down the waste pipe. As a result of the environmental disaster, many marine animals were killed and people along a stretch of 120 miles of coastline became sick. It is now regarded as the largest environmental disaster in Vietnam.
Because the tragedy was worth recognition, Hoa had been uploading videos and articles about protests over the toxic spill. Before long, he caught the government’s eye and was arrested. After a brief, closed trial in Ha Tinh Province, the blogger was found guilty of spreading “anti-state propaganda,” according to various news agencies.
The attempt to silence Hoa has not gone unnoticed. In fact, it has drawn the ire of human rights advocates around the world. Said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division: “The sentencing of Nguyen Van Hoa shows how profoundly the government’s paranoid desire to maintain political control trumps notions of justice and human rights.”
“How else can one explain that executives of an international firm that poisoned the ocean, ruining the coastal economy in four provinces, are free to go about their business while this idealistic young journalist is heading to prison for helping expose their misdeeds?”
As The New York Times reports, Hoa is not the first blogger to be sentenced to prison for speaking out on controversial topics. In June, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as Mother Mushroom, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She had also blogged about the environmental degradation caused by the chemical spill.
Initially, the government refused to disclose basic details about the spill. Even the chemical agents were kept a secret — from both victims and the physicians that sought to treat them. Eventually, it was discovered that the company Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation was responsible for the catastrophe. As a result, the company was ordered to pay $500 million for damages.
Critics are accusing the government of favoring the company, which supposedly received a special deal on some prime coastal real estate where the factory was constructed. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen. However, it is known that fishermen in the area have since lost their livelihood as a result of the spill. Additionally, many people remain sick due to the contaminants which were released into the ocean.
To speak out against corruption takes a level of bravery many of us will never know. Yet, this is exactly what Hoa and Mother Mushroom did. When they saw an injustice, they spoke out about it. For their efforts, they were silenced.
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