06/10/2009, 00.00
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Catholic teacher fired for encouraging students to get information on the web

by J.B. An Dang
Literature teacher is accused of spreading “anti-revolutionary” ideas and promoting anti-Communist websites. In reality she encouraged her students to read stories and poems written before the advent of the Communist regime. In fact Vietnamese authorities are tightening the screws around Internet. A group like Reporters without Borders considers Vietnam one of the main “enemies” of internet, whilst Amnesty International has reported the arrest of people for their online activities

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – A Catholic teacher has been fired from her school for encouraging her students to visit “politically sensitive internet sites,” and might even face criminal charges for her action.

The People's Public Security Newspaper, which is published by Vietnam’s police force, accused Nguyen Thi Bich Hanh (pictured), 28, of “taking advantages of her teaching position to disseminate counter-revolution thoughts, speaking ill of Communist leaders and distorting their images in the heart of children, seriously offending state policy on education, and advertising for anti-communist Web sites which spread slanders against the government.”

The newspaper also reported that Hanh, a literature teacher at Nguyen Binh Khiem Special High school for Gifted Students in Tam Ky, Quang Nam, a province in central Vietnam, was harassed after her students started looking for information on websites deemed “anti-revolutionary” by Vietnamese authorities.

Speaking to Radio Free Asia, Hanh said she did nothing wrong and that she was sacked due in good part to her Catholic background.

In her version of the facts, she just wanted to discuss with her students the benefits and pitfalls of the internet as more and more young people in Vietnam go online to play games, download music, write blogs, send e-mail or use instant messaging services to chat on a daily basis.

As a teacher, she felt duty-bound to educate her young students on how to use the internet in a constructive way, and how to search for, gather and analyse useful and correct information found online.

Inspired by her own experience, Hanh encouraged her students to look for stories, poems, and other writings published prior to the Communist era when Vietnamese authors were free to express their thoughts and emotions. With her students she shared the belief that freedom is the essential condition for artists’ creative work. Many of the writings in question are not available in Vietnam, but can be accessed online.

Internet is indeed going through an exponential growth in Vietnam. Last November, a report from the Vietnam Internet Network Information Center reported almost 21 million internet users in the country (24 per cent of the population).

Another report said that Vietnam government is planning to increase the country’s internet penetration to 35 per cent by 2010.

Along with the plans to increase internet users, Vietnamese authorities are also planning to enforce strict online political censorship. The extensive regulation of internet access using both legal and technical means has filtered out sites that contain sensitive materials that might undermine the Communist Party's hold on power.

While Reporters without Borders considers Vietnam one of 15 "internet enemies", Amnesty International reported many instances of internet activists being arrested for their online activities.

Most websites run by overseas Vietnamese, and most Western Catholic media outlets, have been blocked by the government. However, the sites Hanh introduced to her students can still be accessed in Vietnam.

“The local authority had accused me of having such a different mentality as a result of being a Catholic, with a questionable background,” she said.

She also said that her father had been sent to a Communist re-education camp for his apostolic activities and Catholic faith.

A gifted Mathematician Hanh’s father, Nguyen Quoc Anh, wrote articles relating to linear differential equations, which were so thought-provoking that he was invited to speak at Hanoi University. Never the less, his thesis has never been publicly acknowledged by the Education Ministry for the same political charged reason.

Having outstandingly completed a postgraduate degree in Vietnamese Literature at Dalat University, Hanh was hired by the Provincial Education Department of Quang Nam–Da Nang under a special policy of talented people recruitment in 2002.

Even though she was regarded as one of the most respected teachers at her school, she did not receive any recognition or promotion because she was an active catechist in her parish.

For many Catholics in Vietnam incident is a sign of the tough road they must face, evidence of the difficulty and hardship Catholics must face when they work in the public sector.

Under normal circumstances the firing of a high school teacher would not make the headlines. However, the fact that the People's Public Security Newspaper and other state media outlets reported the news of her termination is the Vietnamese government’s way to send a threatening message to all teachers with ties to religions.

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