AN ARTIST’S CALL FOR VIETNAM’S FREEDOM | MAI KHOI | 2018 OFF IN TAIWAN

AN ARTIST’S CALL FOR VIETNAM’S FREEDOM | MAI KHOI | 2018 OFF IN TAIWAN


You know what?
I used to be a pop star. I had a lot of fans,
shows, and money. I even won song of the year award for the
patriotic song that I wrote about my country. Life was so easy and comfortable,
but it wasn’t enough for me. I’m gonna tell you how I got
from there to where I am now. How I get involved in activism,
and what I’ve learned from my experience. Back in 2010, I was already resisting ideas about
what it means to be a Vietnamese woman. What it means to make music in Vietnam.
I wrote song about woman’s freedom. I create a national debate for saying, “I don’t want to have children”, and for not wearing a bra. When I won song of the year award, I was so happy. I shave VN, for Vietnam, the name of my song, in my hair. I was just expressing
myself in a different way. It earns me a lot of fans
and just as many critics. By 2016, I was just got bored
with Vietnamese pop industry. Under the censorship system, I couldn’t
feel free to create art and music. I got bored with singers, artists,
musicians who censored themself. And I start to spend time with dissident artist
who were doing something very interesting thing. Writers who are banned from writing,
publisher who cannot publish. Poets who are poems are
removed from official records. One day, a friend came with an idea,
Mai Khoi, why don’t you nominate yourself for the National Assembly
election as an independent candidate? I didn’t know it was
possible at that time. Normally, the candidate are
Communist Party members. Vietnam is a one-party state that
doesn’t allow any political opposition. Activism are criminalized.The peaceful
protest are brutally crushed. The press are censor, so people
don’t know about their right. But it turn out the law that allow people to nominate
themself as an independent candidate. I took few days
to think about this. I thought, this is a good way to
promote human right and democracy. This is a good chance for people
who want to change their society. If people can get into the parliament,
they can write the new laws. They can change the public policy on issues like environment, violence against women, education, food safety. But first people need the way to get
into the ballot. So I nominated. My nomination sparked a
huge debate in Vietnam. At the beginning, the government
officials say thing like if you just only can sing, it’s hard to get into the parliament. Or how can we allow a woman who doesn’t
wear a bra get into the parliament? But the more I was
criticized in media the more people start to question why
the officials trying so hard to discredit me. People start to pay their attention on the electoral process and they could see how I was treated unfairly. Three weeks after my nomination,
my shows was raid by the police. And they publish the article
on the police newspaper to let people know that I am effectively
banned from singing in public. Of course, I was rejected from the
ballot unfairly, but I wasn’t about to give up. Knowing that President Obama was coming to visit Vietnam, I made a video to invite him to meet with me. I thought the meeting would help legitimize my
election campaign and encourage young people. President Obama, I want to meet you
when you come to Vietnam in May. The United States support Vietnam to promote the rule of law, transparency, and civil society. I want to talk about how the United States can
better help Vietnam to reform its legal system. As an independent candidate for the National Assembly I want to talk about how we can
improve our law on elections. People think that I was dreaming, how can
Mai Khoi possibly meet with President Obama? But the video went viral. At that time, a friend of mine who
have related work in the government she called me and told me Mai Khoi,
you’re under surveillance 24/7. The police will try to prevent
you from the meeting. So I went into hiding. I could see many activists was detained.
It make me nervous. But in the end, I made it. A very popular artist here
who is speaking out on behalf of freedom of speech and expression
and artists throughout Vietnam. You know what I’ve learned
from this experience? First, no one can change
the world on their own. If you want to change your society,
you have to work with other people. It means put the difference
aside and build a support. The second, human right and
democracy are very powerful concept but with Vietnamese who don’t know about
their basic rights, they obstruct the ideas. So I try to communicate with people
in the way that relevant to their lives. In this, music and art
can play an important role. Another thing that I’ve learned is how
important our freedom of expression is. I was trying so hard to raise awareness for
people about what freedom of expression but it’s so difficult
to engage people. I realized that I should stop
saying about freedom of expression and showing people
what it looks like. So, I publicly protested the politician
and ideas that I don’t agree with. But sometime people
don’t like what I did. But I get people thinking and talking about what human rights and freedom means. And this is a good start. Why you smile? But just as I thought things
was starting to get better freedom of expression is under
the threat now in Vietnam. To explain for someone who
don’t know about Vietnam Before internet, we have nowhere
to go and express ourself freely. The government
control everything. The advance of internet
and social media changed it. It provides us a space where we can speak our mind,
where we can debate about policies. We can write about corruption.
We can organize the peaceful protest. And me, internet allow me to release the album
without thinking about censorship system. But at the same time, I’ve seen a space as
Facebook is being abused. Dissent is being silenced. The critical post
have been deleted. Many accounts of top independent
journalist and activist have been locked. Many people have been jailed for live-streaming
the peaceful protest on their Facebook or because they post their opinion
about politics on their Facebook. But Facebook is ignoring
and right now I am campaigning to keep Facebook free in Vietnam;
the only space that we can speak freely. Facebook is not the only
Vietnam have this problem. Another dissent issues is happening in Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia, Arabic, Turkey. Yes, everywhere. After the advocating,
I had some progress. Three weeks ago, I had a meeting with Facebook
in their head office in San Francisco. And I showed them how their platform
is being abused to silence dissent. And I told them they have to take
the responsibility on this. I asked them to write a statement refusing
to comply the local laws that silence dissent. They are discussing about this
and they promised to respond to me. But if we don’t put more pressure
on this, nothing gonna change. So today I am urgently call on everyone here, support me. Help me to raise awareness on this issues. As the lesson that I’ve learned, no one can change the world on their own. We need to do it together. Artist, politicians, lawyer,
journalist, students who have something to say, who have some ideas,
please come to talk to me. Or contact with Oslo Freedom
Forum to keep in touch. I need the idea to
solve this problem. Thank you very much.

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