More than 100 Vietnamese reform-seeking intellectuals signed a petition Monday calling on the government to establish an open public forum to discuss prospects for democracy in the authoritarian state.
It is the latest bid to pressure the country’s Communist leaders to end one party rule which rights groups say suppresses virtually all forms of political dissent.
In January, 72 Vietnamese intellectuals and activists, including longtime Communist Party members as well as government officials, signed a draft constitution online calling for multiparty rule and “true democracy.”
The latest petition calling for a “civil society forum” was signed by 130 people, including former top editors of large government-controlled newspapers, according to a copy seen by RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“There is a need for a forum to exchange and gather opinions that can contribute to political regime change in our country—from an authoritarian regime to a moderate democratic one,” according to the petition sent to the leaders of the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party.
“That is the purpose of the forum, [which is] totally in accordance with the constitution of our country and international conventions.”
It asked the government to “respect the rights to express opinions by citizens [and] hold open dialogues,” saying the administration is wracked by red tape and inefficiency fueling “rampant corruption” and “abuse of power.”
This, it said, has led to the creation of interest groups, a widening gap between the poor and the rich as well as the use of “illegitimate” mean by the Communist Party to hold on to power.
The petition said the most effective way to end the current crisis is to replace the authoritarian government with a democratic one.
It challenged officials in Hanoi to have a public debate on any changes to the country’s constitution, cautioning that amendments to the charter should not be done hastily.
A growing number of dissidents, bloggers, and religious leaders have been jailed in Vietnam in recent years.
Convictions in the first half of 2013 have overtook the total of those convicted in 2012, which in turn exceeds the number in 2011 and 2010, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said in a recent report.
Blogger Dang Phuong Bich, among the petition’s signatories, said a truly public forum was critical for Vietnam to embrace reforms.
“I think, so far, people have no means to express their opinions,” she told RFA. “I think this idea of an open forum is very good. The government has to recognize it.”
She questioned the Sept. 1 introduction of a controversial Internet law prohibiting Vietnamese citizens from posting any content online that harms national security or opposes the state.
Dubbed Decree 72, the law limits what Vietnamese citizens can post on their online personal pages, including Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
“[The government] says information needs to be legal, so what is legal,” Bich asked, citing gray areas in the law.
Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has assailed Decree 72 as a “gross violation of the right to inform and be informed.”
Some groups say Decree 72, which demands all foreign websites maintain at least one server in Vietnam giving the government greater control of content, does not even specify what constitutes a breach.
Among those who signed the petition were the former assistant editor-in-chief of Sai Gon Giai newspaper, Kha Luong Ngai, the former assistant editor-in-chief for the Tuoi Tre newspaper, Huynh Son Phuoc, and the former editor-in-chief of Lao Dong newspaper, Tong Van Cong.
Writer Pham Dinh Trong, also among those who backed the petition, said the government may choose to ignore it like those sent previously by various groups but this one, he added. will raise public awareness for reforms.
“This is a message that makes the government know that they can’t govern us like before, this is a message for the people to let them know more about their lives and understand their rights,” he said.