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Vietnamese writer declines literature award due to government threats

A Vietnamese literary critic who won an award from a group of her peers has declined to publicly accept it due to what she said were threats from authorities.

 Vietnam’s communist government has stepped up widespread crackdowns of those it considers its opponents, including independent journalists, bloggers and writers. The country was ranked 174th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

Nguyen Thi Thinh Thy’s book “Dare to Look Back” won for the category of research-criticism at the 7th Van Viet Literature Awards. Van Viet is a forum created by authors who support free literature and the Vietnam Independent Writers’ Association (VIWA).

Van Viet published a letter from Thy, in which she declined to accept the prize.

“How much longer will we suffer?” Thy wrote. “Is there anyone on earth, throughout the ancient and modern eras, in both eastern and western literature who has had to write a letter like this? One that asks for the award organizer to PLEASE KEEP THE AWARD FOR ME?”

She wrote that she was honored to have won but could not accept the honor due to harassment from security officers. She said they told her, “You should not go and receive the award to avoid undermining public security.”

“If you want to receive the prize, there should be no award presentation ceremony, no filming, and no posts on social media so that you can avoid getting into unnecessary trouble,” she said the authorities told her.

RFA’s Vietnamese Service requested an interview with Thy but she said she had written all what she wanted to say in the letter posted on Van Viet.

It was not the first time that authorities have threatened or assaulted writers over literature awards, Hoang Dung, a member of Van Viet’s judging panel told RFA. 

“Creating pressure to force this person or that person to withdraw their article or refuse to accept an award, or even physical attacks, is nothing new,” Dung said.

Another Van Viet Literature Awards recipient, Thai Hao, was beaten by plainclothes security officers in March while he was on the way to a different award presentation ceremony held by VIWA’s Campaign Committee.

Dung said that the government efforts to ban independent literature shows the weakness within the political system. 

“Please note that Ms. Tinh Thy’s incident is among a series of government reactions to Van Viet in particular and non-mainstream literature in general. They are always afraid,” Hoang Dung said. “They see enemies everywhere.”

The Communist Party has long sought to control what gets written, but intellectuals and writers would persevere despite those efforts, he said.

“I want to let our fellow compatriots know that there are still intellectuals with a conscience who have the courage to deal with government crackdowns. And I wish one day our country would be more open in terms of ideological issues,” Hoang Dung said.

“The most important thing right now is to make people see how things really are and raise their voices and join hands toghether to make our country a better place.”

 The Vietnamese International Writers’ Association was established in 2014 by more than 60 prominent Vietnamese writers who support freedom of literature.

Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.