Â SingerÂ DoÂ Nguyen Mai Khoi rose to stardom in 2010 after winning the Vietnam Television song and album of the year awards, and has ben described as her native countryâ€™s Bjork or Lady Gaga. Tired of having to submit her work to government censors, Mai Khoi nominated herself to run in Communist Vietnamâ€™s National Assembly elections on a pro-democracy platform. Her turn to political activism led to repeat detention, punishment and thrats to her safety â€“ along with prizes for her advocacy, including the VÃ¡clav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent and the Four Freedoms Award. Now living in exile in the United States and unable to go back to her homeland, the 39-year-old Mai KhoiÂ spoke to Cao Nguyen ofÂ RFAâ€™s Vietnamese Service for International Womenâ€™s Day.
Â RFA: Can you please tell us where you live now and howâ€™s your life?
MaiÂ Khoi:Â IÂ am talking with RFA from a beautiful city in Pennsylvania. I am participating in a residence artist program and working on a multimedia story-telling project named â€œBad Activistsâ€.
MyÂ life here is very interesting. I have the opportunity to meet with artists and activists from various countries, including those from Sudan, Bangladesh and Africa. Itâ€™s interesting because we are in the same situation. We all fought for values of freedom and human rights and were forced to leave our home countries for safety and security reasons. We are now living togetherÂ in a very lovely place.
RFA: You are known as a singer and activist fighting for freedom of expression. What achievement in this area pleases you the most and what are the plans that you havenâ€™t been able to fulfill?
Mai Khoi:Â Over the past three years, my friends and I have been fighting against AK47,Â or the Cyber Security Forces in Vietnam,Â in order to protect the freedom of expression on social media. The achievement that I am most proud of is to have been able to create enough pressure on Facebook so that it had to change its policy. Facebook has removed many groups ofÂ publicÂ opinionÂ workersÂ in Vietnam who used to report political dissidents on purpose in order to get their accountsÂ closed down andÂ toÂ muzzle them.
AlthoughÂ the human rights situation in Vietnam is still very bad and the Vietnamese government continues to arrest and punish political dissidents who express their opinions online, this can be seen as a small success and contribution of myself and my team.
Itâ€™s a shame that I had not been able to complete many things that I and my team in Vietnam were working on. Three years ago, I had to leave Vietnam immediately because the police threatened to arrest me.
TheÂ police had detained me several times and according to our experience, they were likely to imprison people whom they had temporarily detained many times. At that time, I thought it was unnecessary for me to stay in prison, therefore I decided to leave before they could take action.
RFA: What is your assessment of the level of freedom of expression in Vietnam now? What are you doing now to support and advocate for this right in Vietnam?
Mai Khoi:Â Freedom of expression has never been protected in Vietnam and it remains very bad now. Those who take to the streets are often arrested, watched and punished. Things are even getting worse now as those who express their opinions on social media can be fined and imprisoned. As a result, we have to continue fighting, taking action and have a faith in what we are doing.
MyÂ team and I keep working and creating pressure on Facebook so that they will change other policies in order to protect freedom of expression and activistsâ€™ Facebook accounts.
FacebookÂ needs to do more,Â and pressuringÂ them is necessary. What I have been doing is to work with international media to create pressure on them and advocate for their further actions.
Nowadays, social media plays a very important role in organizing activities, movements and creating pressure for policy changes. As social media has such a great power, authoritarian governments often try to eliminate it. However, not many understand what I am doing.
RFA:Â WhileÂ many people love you and support your cause, you also receive criticism from not only the Vietnamese government but also from political dissidents. How do you respond to the criticism?
Mai Khoi:Â When conflicts or arguments emerge, I often keep quiet and focus on the direction that I have chosen. Thatâ€™s the only way.
Iâ€™ll keep working on what I have been doing to contribute to changes, the rightness, human rights and other values of freedom. I donâ€™t care about groundless and ignorant criticism.
RFA: Do you have any wishes or words for your fellow Vietnamese women foe International Womenâ€™s Day?
Mai Khoi:Â In Vietnam, up to 63 per cent of women have experienced a type of violence,Â whether physical, mental or economic. Sixty-three percent of women havingÂ been abused by their menÂ is aÂ bigÂ and sad number. I really hope that the Vietnamese government will pay sufficient attention to this issue and make efforts to change it.
TheÂ most important thing isÂ everyÂ Vietnamese woman needs to understand her rights. Once they have a good understanding, they will use their rights properly and not allow violence and abuse. They will alsoÂ beÂ able to become the person they would like to be.
RFA: Are you afraid that your safety will be threatened if you return to Vietnam?
Mai Khoi:Â I havenâ€™t gone backÂ toÂ Vietnam not becauseÂ IÂ worry about my safety. At present I cannot return to Vietnam and make contributions. I will return when necessary.
I think no one can be completely safe in Vietnam as human rights are not protected. If you say something a little bit contradictory to the authorityâ€™s opinions, you could be on the verge of being fined, arrested and punished.
RFA: What do you wish Vietnam will be in the future?
Mai Khoi:Â I wish Vietnam would have democracy,Â aÂ multiparty regime and universal human rights would be protected, and all political prisoners would be released. I wish Vietnam will not have political prisoners.
Translated by Anna Vu.