Vietnamese academics call on the Government to respect Academic Freedom
In March 2014, in an unprecedented act which angered the academic community, Vietnam’s Hanoi University of Education suddenly announced the revocation of the Master’s degree in Language and Literature which it awarded to young writer Do Thi Thoan (pen name Nhã Thuyên) four years earlier, with maximum mark. The decision was made in secret and there was no proof or even accusation that any academic mistake or misconduct had been committed by the candidate.
This extraordinary event was almost certainly caused by political pressure from the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) itself. Prior to the revocation, a campaign was initiated in the state-controlled media to criticise the lack of political correctness of Nha Thuyen’s thesis and continues to this day. The revocation followed closed meetings by a panel of non-experts in the field of research involved. No reason was given for the revocation of the degree, in spite of requests for explanations from Nha Thuyen herself. A leaked document from “Ban Tuyen Giao”, the Propaganda and Political Education organ of the VCP, shows that they were issuing secret directives to the media to avoid reporting any adverse reaction to this affair. The octopus-like Ban Tuyen Giao, incidentally, is the organisation charged with ensuring that all thoughts and speech in the country follow the Party line, by guiding or manipulating the media and the entire education system.
Why is the Party so concerned about a Literature Master’s thesis? The research topic itself may provide an explanation. Titled “The Marginalized’s position: Open-Mouth Group’s poetic experiments from a cultural perspective”, the thesis explores the work of Mo Mieng (Open Mouth), a group of samizdat writers who hold critical views of contemporary Vietnamese society. Their work has frequently been published overseas, but it is considered taboo inside Vietnam. Bùi Chát, one of the founding members, was awarded the 2011 Freedom to Publish Prize by the International Publishers Association . The Mo Mieng writers themselves have suffered frequent police harassment, including sometimes brutal beatings. Thus, even the act of researching their work and writing about it could have been construed by the Party as an act of defiance. Asides from the author herself, her research supervisor, Associate Professor Nguyen Thi Binh, had her employment contract terminated by the University.
In an unprecedented act of protest and solidarity, several members of the Vietnamese university and research community wrote an open letter on 19th April 2014 to the Hanoi National University of Education demanding that the revocation of Nha Thuyen’s Master’s degree be reversed. Simultaneously, a group of prominent overseas Vietnamese academics and scientists released an open letter supporting the protest and calling for more academic freedom in Vietnamese universities. The latter also demands that the Vietnamese government conducts an investigation into the affair and institutes measures to prevent the recurrence of political interference into academic affairs.
We attach the English versions of the above mentioned letters. A list of signatories is available on request at the email address below. We welcome any support from the overseas academic and research community. Should you wish to add your signature in support of academic freedom, please send your details to firstname.lastname@example.org.