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World University Service, HKUB, HKUSU

Autumn Edition

Forbidding the Use of Social Media? -Freedom of Speech in Vietnam Koey Chan Current Affairs Secretary World University Service, HKUB, HKUSU

In late October 2013, Facebook user, Dinh Nhat in Vietnam has been convicted of posting messages calling for the release of his activist brother after a one-day trial in Long An province. He was convicted under Article 258 of the penal code that prohibits “abusing democratic freedoms against the interests of the state.” He will also face severe restrictions on movement for around two years. Although he thinks this conviction and sentence is absurd and has decided to appeal, it seems to be useless in Vietnam, a country lacks freedom of speech.

Vietnam ranks 172 out of 179 nations in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press-freedom index and this is the first time the popular social network has been explicitly named in an indictment. In September, the Vietnam government introduced Decree 72. This is an Internet law banning bloggers and socialmedia users from posting even official news stories online. This further hinders Vietnam’s human rights development and attracts criticisms from both Vietnamese citizens and the international community.


World University Service

Autumn Edition

So why does Vietnam need freedom of speech in fact? Admittedly, the government may fear that freedom of speech is a threat to their ruling. Granting freedom of speech may mean more discontent with status quo and the desire to change it. In Vietnam, there are long-standing social and political problems such as inflation, rampant corruption and abuses related to citizens’ land-rights. These would prompt and have prompted political activists to voice out against the government. These activists believe that the government should have solved these plights for its people yet it is their firm belief that the current ruling Communist Party in Vietnam has lost touch with the people. By speaking out, this may stir up the public outrage against the government and eventually undermining the government’s ruling power. However, freedom of speech is not necessarily a grave threat to government’s power. Granting the freedom of speech to its people, government can know what the Vietnamese people concern. Appropriate policies can be launched in order to boost the country’s development. Confidence from Vietnamese people can also be established. It is because without freedom of speech, millions of Facebook users in Vietnam maybe worried about being the targets of Vietnamese government. Discontent and worries towards the Vietnam government be still accumulated, which is not favourable to the governance of the current Vietnamese government. Since social networking websites are becoming more common in Vietnam as a new and growing trend, providing freedom of speech can boost confidence netizens’ confidence. More support from netizens can be gained as a result. Meanwhile, it is also beneficial to Vietnam’s further political development because Vietnam can gain more international recognition. Vietnam is currently running for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council in elections slated for Nov. 12. It is worth noting that council members in the U.N. Human Rights Council are supposed to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”. This shows that if the Vietnamese government is willing to protect and uphold freedom of speech, Vietnam will have a larger chance to be selected as a member in the Council and gain more international power and recognition. This is important for Vietnam’s long-term political development undoubtedly.

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In addition, apart from helping to solve the social problems by voicing out, freedom of speech can encourage creative thinking. This is crucial for a country’s development. With more channels of communication such as online forums and social networking websites, freedom of speech speeds up the evolution of ideas, which leads to growth. Economic development usually depends on a flexible but vibrant system, which requires a lot of creative suitable inputs for different actual situations. Therefore, it is certainly not a good idea to target millions of netizens in Vietnam, which will disrupt invocation as well as the growth of the country.

To conclude, although allowing freedom of speech may, to some extent, adds obstacles to the ruling of the Vietnam Communist Party, it is believed to be conducive to Vietnam’s long-term development. It is also understandable that Vietnam is still a developing country and it is more important to feed its people properly than giving them freedom of speech. However, as aforementioned, freedom of speech is a necessity for the healthy growth of Vietnam in longterm. With Vietnam’s growing concerns over human rights, it is hoped that this situation would be improved with more freedom of speech in the foreseeable future.

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A Lesser Known Human Right - Right to Palliative Care

Jeff Chan Current Affairs Secretary World University Service, HKUB, HKUSU

News from around the world recently has provided insight to a kind of human rights that most people are not aware of. However, most people are not going to wish that they have to enjoy this kind of right - right to palliative care. Palliative care is not any other type of care service but healthcare that aims to improve the quality of life of people facing life-limiting illness. Life-limiting illness includes all kind of conditions in which patient face painful or distressing symptoms. Often patients having these illness have a possibility of losing their lives after certain period of remaining healthy. Pain and symptom relief, as well as psychosocial support for the patient and his/her families, are the physical and physiological comfort that palliative care provides.

A retrial dated back last month on the 11th in Russia a legal case on the charges of opioid trafficking and forgery against a doctor. Alevtina Khorinyak is the defendant in this case. She is a 50-year-old doctor and has already 50 years’ experience as a general practitioner. It was four years ago when she wrote two tramadol prescriptions to relieve the intolerable pain of a terminally ill patient named Victor Sechin. Sechin is an old friend of Dr Khorinyak who knows her for over 20 years. He was diagnosed with a malignant neoplasm (cancer) by her in 2006 and the disease brought him great suffering as time goes by. The polyclinic which the service area Sechin resides in ran out of tramadol which is a kind of moderate to serve pain relieve medical prescription. Sechin could not obtain the prescription from his general practitioner to buy tramadol in another pharmacy. He turned to Dr Khorinyak for help and obtained two prescriptions for the medicine from the doctor who does not work in his service area. The act of Alevtina Khorinyak brought about criminal charges against her by the State Drug Control Service one month after Sechin died.

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Dr Alevtina Khorinyak

Human Rights Watch, an independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights voiced out their views on the legal case to the prosecutors of Dr Khorinyak, claiming that the charges against her is completely disproportionate and absurd. They believe that the doctor’s act on refusing to let a dying man suffer in agonizing and unnecessary pain has protected the patient’s rights to enjoying proper palliative care, therefore her action should not be punished. On the other hand, strict regulations on medication including tramadol and opioids are expected. Under international law, countries have an obligation to regulate the availability and accessibility of strong opioid medications. This is to prevent abuse on these types of drugs which have strong effect on human body. The two sides both have support in their arguments whether the Russian physician deserve a guilty verdict or not.

Having seen such a case in Russia, Human Rights Watch has conveyed the message on the human right of enjoying palliative care by its publication of “Abandoned in Agony: Cancer and the Struggle for Pain Treatment in Senegal” on 24th October. The 85-page report focuses on the situation of Senegal where tens of thousands of patients suffer from excruciating pain days and nights without the slightest hope of relieving the agony. Senegal is a country in West Africa, part of The Economic Community of West African States and a member of the African Union. Most people may not have heard of this country but like most of other parts of Africa, resources is limited there not to mention funding on medical services.

The health system in Senegal focuses mainly on acute health problems. Little provision is available for chronic and noncommunicable illness. Because of this, many of the patients in the country suffering from diseases including cancer, HIV/AIDS, respiratory and heart diseases receive little medication. Figures have shown as of 2013, the country has a population of 14.1million out of which 70,000 Senegalese require palliative care. It is really despairing that these patients are literally waiting for the day to meet their Maker. Not only do they live numbered days, these poor patients often experience continuous pain 24 hours a day, making it impossible for them to live a normal life before they pass away. Accounts of the patients have shown us that pain is intense to the point that it is difficult for them to speak, to eat or drink and even to sleep.

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Some people may address that the point that illness, for instance, severe diabetes can be treated and controlled before the patient's situation worsen symptoms intensified. They claim that the solution to the suffering of people from the developing country is to proactively aid them in improving healthcare system and medical services rather than to reactively provide them with palliative care. This is indeed what can be done best for those patients. However provided that developing advanced medical systems is lengthy and costly. It is also taxing on the economy to maintain the quality of advanced medical system. As in the situation in Senegal, it is much more realistic and practical to provide patients with palliative care since medical care is not of good enough quality to prevent and cure severe illness.

In Senegal, modern medication is available only in regional and national hospitals. Among all these hospitals, one third are located in Dakar, the capital of the country. Availability of palliative care is extremely limited. A low cost yet extraordinary effective pain killer that is commonly used as palliative care medication is morphine. Just 1 kilogram of morphine can treat about 200 cancer patients. However, Senegal imports just only 1 kilogram every year. According to the World Health Organization, morphine is considered as an essential medicine in its injectable, tablet or oral syrup forms. Morphine is on the list of standard medication of Senegal. However, due to the complication in authorization and importation process.

Having seen the situation in both developed and developing countries, it is easy to learn the fact that palliative care is not readily available around the world. Either it is because of legal regulations or complicated authorization on the medication or it is due to the lack of understanding of importance of palliative care causing shortages of these medications. It is important that messages on the protection of human rights to palliative care is conveyed and that governments of both developed and developing countries modify their policies on palliative care provision. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights specifies that everyone has a right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. This implies that control over drugs must be continually balanced so that availability and accessibility of opioid medications to patients is ensured while misuse and diversion of these drugs are prevented.

In a nutshell, right to palliative care is one of the many lesser-known human rights that people should have. Consider a dying person not able to have the pain alleviated when there is a way in doing so, this can be a form of abuse and a disrespect to the dignity of the patient. Would you do the same if you were Dr Alevtina Khorinyak, giving prescriptions of a regulated medication to a friend and patient in need out of your service area? Sometimes it is hard for us to balance between legal regulations and the practice of supporting human rights. But one thing is certain, there is always room for us to advocate for protection of human rights, even when it is comes to those we do not want to have a chance to enjoy. After all, no one would like to be in dying agony, but there are people who are wishing every single moment that better policy can be made and actions to be taken to grasps the rights they desperately want in enjoying.


Your Voice!

‘Your Voice’ is where you can comment on any current affairs! If you would also like to express your special views on heated issues as what has demonstrated in the following commentaries, please feel free to contact us via our email wushk@hku.hk. Prizes will be awarded if your commentary is selected!

Matthew Foreman BA(3) Year 1

When we discuss human rights, equal opportunities or current affairs, one usually looks overseas to large, global affairs that flood the news and social media sites. Closer to home, however, there lies an equally severe problem but far less recognized: Hong Kong’s education system. The fundamental problems of Hong Kong’s education system that require immediate attention and drastic reformation are outright neglected. I shall attempt to explain why this issue is of utmost importance. The fact that this problem remains obscure to the average citizen makes it even more of an issue. In Hong Kong, where education is identified as underpinning success, those that miss out will undoubtedly have far less chance of succeeding. Yet, the figures on the Hong Kong census and statistics department show that this year, more than 80% of prospective candidates will not get a university place. Not surprisingly, many of those that do become university students come from wealthier, more affluent backgrounds. In Marcel Theroux’s documentary “Hong Kong’s Tiger Tutors” which can be found on YouTube, we see that the wealthier you are the better education you get. The most well off students in Hong Kong study at the best secondary schools, and get to go overseas to renowned universities such as Oxbridge or Stanford. This lack of equal opportunities in education is caused by the enormous wealth gap in Hong Kong. Rich children usually get all the help and support they need to succeed, whereas many poorer families have their children forced out of further education due to poverty. There is no equal opportunity. The education system in Hong Kong is similar to the capitalist free-market economic system. The sad fact is that the more affluent you are, the more opportunities you get; the less well-off you are, the less support you receive. As a result, fewer doors are open to you. Rich students get all the help money can buy. This is the fundamental problem: something as important as education should be a right, not a privilege. How do we solve this? Such an ingrained system is beyond modification; instead I propose a complete revamp and revolution of Hong Kong’s educational system. Something as essential as education should not be restricted by wealth – it should be equal for everyone. Everyone has an equal right to success. This should certainly not be influenced by how much money your parents make a month.

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WUSHKUB Autumn 2013 Current Affairs Newsletter