NEW YORK (June 3, 2018) — On May 30, Vietnamese musician and dissident Mai Khoi was awarded the Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, during the Oslo Freedom Forum. When the BBC World Service attempted to provide live coverage of the event, Vietnamese authorities intervened to cut short the broadcast in Vietnam. Mai Khoi posted a video of the incident on YouTube.
“This confirms that it is official government policy to ban me from appearing in media. The aim of this policy is to erase me from public consciousness and isolate me,” Mai Khoi stated in a message to HRF. “When I return to Vietnam this week, I hope I am not arbitrarily detained again, and call on friends around the world to demand my release if I am.”
The Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent, known in brief as the Havel Prize, is an award given by the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) that recognizes individuals who use creative means to push back against authoritarianism. In addition to Mai Khoi, this year’s Havel Prize laureates were South Sudanese hip hop artist and former child solider Emmanuel Jal and underground troupe Belarus Free Theatre. The awardees shared a prize of 350,000 Norwegian kroner. The award ceremony took place on Wednesday, May 30, at the Latter Teater in Oslo, Norway, during the 10th anniversary of the Oslo Freedom Forum.
In Mai Khoi's video of the incident, a BBC presenter says that she “us[es] her fame to battle for democracy,” and seconds later the video cuts to a screen that says, “This program has been temporarily interrupted due to inappropriate content. It will return in a few minutes.” BBC World Service is broadcast nationwide on cable television in Vietnam.
Mai Khoi is a musician who has faced dogged censorship and harassment since 2016, when she nominated herself for political office. Vietnam is a one-party state that typically does not permit any candidates to run who are not friends or partners of the Communist Party. Her name was removed from the ballot and police targeted her for repression: her concerts were raided, she was evictedtwice, and she was detained at the airport, among other incidents. Today, it is nearly impossible for her to perform publicly in Vietnam. Instead, she resorts to performing at underground venues, and promotes her music on social media.
“If there were any doubts, this incident proves that Mai Khoi is a worthy recipient of the Havel Prize. The government is so threatened by Mai Khoi and her music, that they could not allow her face to appear on screen for more than a few seconds,” stated Havel Prize Committee Chairman and HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “Mai Khoi is as fearless in her activism as she is in her art, and censors will not be able to stop her. Freedom-loving individuals from democratic countries worldwide should continue to support her courageous work for years to come.”
Watch Mai Khoi’s mainstage Oslo Freedom Forum talk here. A video of her Havel Prize acceptance speech and performance will be released online soon.
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The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.