[This post was authored by FMC Communications Intern Olivia Brown]
Vo Minh Tri (Viet Kang) and Tran Vu Anh Binh are Vietnamese protest musicians. Their songs combine militaristic percussion, traditional musical elements, lamenting vocals and saxophone and guitar solos, dealing with issues ranging from violent foreign invasions and territorial disputes to nonviolent protest. Their creativity reflects deep concern for the future of their country under the rule of an oppressive, speech-stifling government. Both artists have recently become victims of the oppression that they oppose, after YouTube videos featuring their protest music paired with images of war and oppression in Vietnam gained attention on YouTube.
Tri and Binh are some of the most recent victims in a long history of censorship in the arts. After their music videos were noticed by the Vietnamese government, they were charged with using propaganda to turn Vietnamese citizens against the government. Having been convicted, the two are now set to spend four and six years in prison, respectively. The U.S. State Department has called for their release, citing a history of oppression on the part of the Vietnamese government as well as a failure to comply with international standards for freedom of expression.
This case raises concerns for advocates of “internet freedom.” Internet freedom is the idea that the internet should be a place where artists are free to lend their creativity to social causes, speak out against abuses of power, and advocate for their own right to express themselves. Historically, art has been an immense agent of change, and since the internet is by far the easiest way to disseminate information and ideas in modern times, it is critical that the internet be available as a tool for activists all over the world to use. As the internet continues to grow, however, some governments are making more heavy-handed attempts to control what exactly their constituents are allowed to say online — at best, censoring websites and “controversial” content, and at worst, imprisoning citizens for expressing their ideas.
The Copyright Alliance is spearheading an effort to advocate for the release of Tri and Binh. They are urging fellow advocates for a free internet — as well as musicians and other creators — to lend their support by spreading their story, using the hashtag #freespeech4artistsonline on their social networks, or creating something of their own to spread awareness of the Vietnamese government’s harsh crackdowns on free speech and expression.
The Tri and Binh case has clear parallels to the recent Pussy Riot case, in which members of the feminist punk-rock protest act were arrested and jailed for “hooliganism” after a series of anti-Putin performances that they staged in various Russian cathedrals offended the Russian Orthodox Church. Tune in to FMC’s 12th Future of Music Summit on November 13th for a deeper discussion of the Pussy Riot case, including state censorship, freedom of expression, and music of counterculture movements. The “Why Pussy Riot Matters” panelists will include Mark Yoffe (curator of the International Counterculture Archive at George Washington University’s Global Resources Center) and Lindsay Zoladz of Pitchfork.