In the United States, we take for granted our right to free speech. We can say whatever we like, however we like. Granted, at times, it may be distasteful, brutal, or lack sincerity and truth, but never the less, we are granted the right to say it. We can work and then come home and complain about work. And yes, again, it may get us fired based on rules of our employment, but it will certainly, in most circumstances, not get us arrested or put in jail. We can come home and then complain about our government’s policies with no thought of concern if we will have a job the next day. If that does indeed occur, we are within our legal rights to fight for justice. According to Article 19 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (n.d.), we are all entitled to “the right to freedom of opinion and expression” (Article 19). In case there was any confusion regarding what this right entails, the document clarifies by explaining “this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” (Universal Declaration, n.d., Article 19). As wonderful as this sounds and as much as we would like to believe it is true, not everyone has the advantage of being granted such a right.
A quick search on the internet with “human rights violation” as key words brings up a surplus of articles in which this right Americans take for granted is seen as both an immoral and illegal practice in other countries. One such article from the Associated Press in The New York Times (2012) is a prime example. A man in Vietnam named Le Quoc Quan was recently detained for what, on the surface, is a charge of tax evasion. But upon further inspection, the Vietnamese government may have detained him for another reason – to hinder the gentleman’s writing. Le Quoc Quan posts an online blog that has negative opinions against his authoritarian government, making the public aware of human rights violations in the country. This he does, as the media is not allowed to (Associated Press, 2012). Two other Vietnamese bloggers, both highly respected by the community, were arrested in 2011 and denied their appeals. They have received 10 and 12 years in jail, respectively, for being “found guilty of posting political articles on a banned website” and “posting articles critical of the government on their own blogs” (BBC News, 2012). Further investigation indicated that Le Quoc Quan has had numerous run-ins with the government and been harassed repeatedly. He was arrested once before, was brutally beaten in August by unknown assailants, and was detained from reentering his country after a trip to the United States.
Another human right listed within the Universal Declaration is: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile” (n.d., Article 9). Those initially arrested were also charged with tax evasion and have had numerous dalliances with the government. The female blogger sent to prison for twelve years had a mother who was so distraught over the lost appeal that she set herself on fire in front of a government building in protest and died on the way to the hospital. The Vietnam media never reported the incident (Associated Press, 2012). This particular blogger was a police officer. BBC News indicated that she was “praised by campaigning groups for her work in exposing official corruption.” Article 23 in the Universal Declaration (n.d.) states: “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment” (Section 1) and indicates that “[e]veryone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.” It is quite clear that the company and government for whom this woman worked was not taking these rights into consideration upon her arrest and subsequent twelve year sentence for writing a blog about the injustices she saw. Here, in the United States, we may expect to get fired, but certainly we could still continue our blog with no threat to our freedom. The Seattle Times indicated that both President Obama and Hillary Clinton had brought forth pleas regarding the initial bloggers’ cases to have them all set free (Associated Press, 2012).
Why am I talking about this? Well, we are in rough political waters these days. And people are saying all sorts of things – some we agree with and some we do not. Some we chose to listen to and some we do not. Sometimes, we wish the person who was saying those things would just shut up. But, they don’t have to. And neither do you. It’s their right to speak and lo’ and behold, you get to say you agree or disagree and say stuff right back. I think it’s often times a good thing to remind ourselves that we have this right. That we all have this right. Even when maybe we wish the “other” person didn’t.
We must remember the battles that people are fighting every day to gain this right in which we all should be entitled. And be thankful that we, as a country, do have this right. So next time a politician, or your mother, or your boss says something you don’t like, well, it is their right. And you have every right to say something, too. It’s a bit of a Catch-22, isn’t it?
Associated Press. (2012, January 3). Vietnam blogger’s mom self-immolates before trial. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from http://seattletimes.com
Associated Press. (2012, December 28). Vietnamese Dissident Lawyer Arrested. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
BBC News. (2012, December 28). Court appeal of dissident Vietnam bloggers is rejected. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20856696
Postema, G. J. (2006). Interests, universal and particular: Bentham’s utilitarian theory of value. Utilitas, 18(2), 109-133. Retrieved from
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (n.d.) Retrieved from