Posts Tagged ‘Phil Robertson’

Vietnam Releases Two Human Rights Advocates From Prison

April 15, 2014

From the BBC

File photo: Dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu (centre) in court in Hanoi during his trial on 4 April 2011
Activist Cu Huy Ha Vu (centre) was released earlier this month and is now in the US

Vietnam has released two high-profile political activists amid ongoing free trade talks with the United States.

Democracy activists Nguyen Tien Trung and Vi Duc Hoi were freed from prison over the weekend.

Earlier in April, prominent activist Cu Huy Ha Vu was also released from jail. He has since flown to the US, which had campaigned for his release.

Vietnam is in negotiations with the US over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a major free trade deal.

Members of the US Congress said that greater US-Vietnam co-operation should be tied to Vietnam improving its human rights record.

‘Long way to go’

Vietnam, a one-party Communist state, has one of south-east Asia’s fastest-growing economies. However, the government suppresses political dissent and religious freedom, and private media is banned.

Blogger Nguyen Tien Trung had served nearly five years of his seven-year jail term for subversion. He now faces three years of house arrest.

Former Communist Party official Vi Duc Hoi, who campaigned for democracy, served four and a half years of his five-year term for anti-government propaganda. He now faces five years of house arrest.

Vi Duc Hoi told US-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia: “It was due to international pressure that the government of Vietnam had to release me.”

Meanwhile, legal activist Cu Huy Ha Vu was released this month after spending three years in prison.

Mr Vu, the son of a celebrated poet who was also a leading revolutionary and confidant of the former president Ho Chi Minh, was sentenced to seven years in jail for spreading anti-government propaganda.

He had called for democratic reforms in Vietnam and tried to sue the Vietnamese prime minister twice over a mining project he said would harm the environment.

Speaking after the releases of Nguyen Tien Trung and Vi Duc Hoi, Human Rights Watch Asia director Phil Robertson said: “There are still hundreds more political prisoners languishing in Vietnam’s prisons, so there is a very long way to go before we can say that Vietnam is making any sort of appreciable progress on human rights.”

Analysis

Although the release of prisoners of conscience in the past weeks may be surprising, it should not be seen as an indication that the communist government is easing its grip on dissidents.

Vietnam made it into the UN Human Rights Council last year, so it has a clear motivation to polish its human rights record.

On top of that, the country’s stumbling economy, which fuels public disillusion with the leadership, desperately needs a boost from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

But the US has made it very clear that it will not sign the trade deal unless Vietnam shows “demonstrable progress” on human rights

In any case, observers say those released can hardly do harm to the communist government anymore. Cu Huy Ha Vu is now in the US, while activist Dinh Dang Dinh, who was granted a presidential amnesty on health grounds in March, has since died of cancer.

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President Obama’s State of the Union: From War Heroes to Duck Dynasty

January 29, 2014

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  • Partisan politics on display during President Obama’s State of the Union address this evening
  • Traditionally the first lady invites guest to include those whose personal stories can help highlight a particular policy or issue for the president
  • That now extends to opposition politicians inviting guests who represent the opposing side to the debate

By James  Nye and Meghan Keneally

President Obama brought both sides of the political divide together during Tuesday’s State of the Union address as paid an emotional tribute to injured Afghanistan veteran Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg.

The president drew a standing ovation from Republicans and Democrats for the war hero who was left in a coma for three months in 2009 after a roadside bomb hit his convoy outside Kandahar during his 10th deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq.

As Remsburg watched on from the public gallery as a guest of first lady, Michelle Obama, president Obama told the packed house how the hero continues to work each day on his recovery.

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

‘Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory  Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.’

Tribute: US First Lady Michelle Obama gives the thumbs up to US Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was wounded in Afghanistan during President Obama's State of the Union address

Tribute: US First Lady Michelle Obama gives the thumbs up to US Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was wounded in Afghanistan during President Obama’s State of the Union address

Hero: First lady Michelle Obama, and others, applaud Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg as President Barack Obama acknowledges him during his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington

Hero: First lady Michelle Obama, and others, applaud Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg as President Barack Obama acknowledges him during his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington

Acknowledgement: US First Lady Michelle Obama (C) stands with US Army Ranger Cory Remsburg (2nd-L), who was wounded in Afghanistan, before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress

Acknowledgement: US First Lady Michelle Obama (C) stands with US Army Ranger Cory Remsburg (2nd-L), who was wounded in Afghanistan, before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress

Honored guests: First Lady Michelle Obama waves from her box before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday evening

Honored guests: First Lady Michelle Obama waves from her box before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Tuesday evening

Presidential address: First lady Michelle Obama greets U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg (3rd from L), injured while serving in Afghanistan, as she arrives prior to President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech

Presidential address: First lady Michelle Obama greets U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg (3rd from L), injured while serving in Afghanistan, as she arrives prior to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech

In an emotional moment, a visibly touched Remsburg then stood to acknowledge the sustained applause from the house as Michelle Obama smiled broadly at him.

Remsburg was just one of her honored guests this evening during her husband’s fifth State of the Union address to a joint session of congress – but some of the other guest attendees only served to highlight the deep partisan divide that exists on Capitol Hill.

While the first lady warmly embraced injured Afghanistan veteran Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, Republicans such as former vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan posed for selfies with controversial Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson.

Robertson, the son of Duck Dynasty’s patriarch Phil Robertson – who was temporarily suspended from the show after making anti-gay remarks – was invited by  Louisiana’s new Republican congressman, Vance McAllister.

Strong: Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, who had to have both his legs amputated after being injured in the blasts, stands with his rescuer Carlos Arredondo (L) before the start of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech

Strong: Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, who had to have both his legs amputated after being injured in the blasts, stands with his rescuer Carlos Arredondo (L) before the start of U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech

Indeed, Representative McAllister  pointedly said in a statement that he looks forward to ‘bringing some  diversity to our nation’s Capitol’, with the invitation of the younger  Robertson, despite the huge controversy his father created last year.

In addition, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham threw his hat firmly into the Duck Dynasty ring by gifting his invite to Willie Robertson’s wife, Korie Robertson – and tweeted a smiling picture to prove it.

It has become tradition for the first lady’s guests to include those whose personal stories can help highlight a particular policy or issue for the president.

Twenty-four people have been invited to join Mrs. Obama in her box, including two Boston Marathon bombing survivors, Jeff Bauman and his cowboy hatted rescuer, Carlos Arredondo.

However, more politically pointed guests include, Amanda Shelley, from Gilbert, Arizona.

Feted guests: Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson, center and his wife Korie, talk with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28

Feted guests: Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, center and his wife Korie, talk with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28

The 37-year-old physicians assistant was uninsured and couldn’t get coverage because of a pre-existing condition until Obama’s health care legislation became law, the White House said.

Two days after receiving coverage, she encountered abdominal pain that eventually required emergency surgery – something that would never have happened before the Affordable Care Act.

Countering this,  Republican leaders have urged their members to host people for whom Obama’s signature national health care law is a burden.

Enlarge               

Selfies with a cable television star: Duck Dynasty's Willie Robertson, center and his wife Korie, pose with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill

Selfies with a cable television star: Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, center and his wife Korie, pose with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill

House Speaker John Bohner’s guests are business owners from his Ohio district. They include David Lippert, president of Hamilton Caster & Manufacturing Company in Hamilton, Ohio, who complains ‘Obamacare’ is limiting his efforts to expand his business.

Backing up the president and his wife is Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who is hosting small business owner Martin West, whose wife Melinda was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

In December, West signed his family up for health insurance under the new law and ‘now have the peace of mind of knowing they cannot be dropped from their health insurance due to a pre-existing condition,’

Keen to keep the Benghazi controversy rumbling on, Oklahoma Republican Congressman, Jim Bridenstine, is hosting Charles Woods, father of Ty Woods, a Navy SEAL killed in the terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Bridenstine said in a statement ‘I am honored to host the father of a true hero.’

The Sept. 11, 2012 attack and the Obama administration’s response to it is a politically charged subject ahead of the 2014 midterms and the 2016 presidential election.

Guests: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted this picture of Willie Robertson and his wife Korie Robertson saying he was proud to provide his guest ticket to the Duck Dynasty star's wife

Guests: South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted this picture of Willie Robertson and his wife Korie Robertson saying he was proud to provide his guest ticket to the Duck Dynasty star’s wife

The first lady always brings a group of apolitical Americans to the annual speech with her to highlight their service and achievements throughout the year.

Some will be recognized by many and this year one of those men will be Carlos Arredondo, who was wearing a white cowboy hat as he rushed a stranger- later identified as Jeff Bauman- to get medical treatment after he lost both legs in the blast.

The iconic picture of Mr Arrendondo rushing Bauman to first responders became a hopeful symbol of the devastating attack.

The White House said that the two men have become close friends.

Another guest will be Cary Bird, the fire chief in Moore Oklahoma.

He led the rescue response to the tornado that hit the town and killed 25 people.

US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on the floor of the US House of Representatives in the US Capitol in Washington

US President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on the floor of the US House of Representatives in the US Capitol in Washington

‘Fire Chief Gary Bird represents all of those who rallied together to help the community of Moore, Oklahoma- firefighters, police officers, teachers, neighbors- in its greatest time of need,’ the White House said in a statement announcing Mrs Obama’s guests.

The best-known guest that has been announced so far is Jason Collins, the NBA player who announced that he is gay which made him the first openly gay athlete in the league.

Mrs Obama and the White House put out statements immediately praising Collins when he made his announcement in April, as did former President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea, who has been friends with Collins since they attended Stanford together.

Other guests include, Peter Mouskondis, president and CEO of Nicholas & Company, Inc., a third-generation, family-owned and operated food service distribution company, with roughly 500 employees.

The White House says the company’s emphasis on work-life balance and benefits, including maternity, paternity and bereavement leave, have contributed to worker productivity and company growth.

Survivor: Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, who had to have both his legs amputated after being injured in the blasts, arrives before the start of U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech

Survivor: Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, who had to have both his legs amputated after being injured in the blasts, arrives before the start of U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech

First Lady Michelle Obama waves from her box before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington

First Lady Michelle Obama waves from her box before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington

Another two American hero is Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg who has met with Obama three times since a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on his 10th deployment, left him in a coma for three months, partially paralyzed and brain-damaged.

He will be accompanied by his father, Craig, a retired Air Force Reserve firefighter, and stepmother Annie, are his caretakers.

Other, more politically pointed guests of the first lady include, John Soranno, the CEO of Punch Pizza, which has eight locations in the state, and co-owner, John Puckett, raised the company-wide minimum wage to $10 an hour.

Out of the ashes: Carlos Arredondo (in the white cowboy hat) helped save Jeff Bauman after he lost both legs in the explosion and now they will both be guests of Mrs Obama at the State of the Union address on Tuesday

Out of the ashes: Carlos Arredondo (in the white cowboy hat) helped save Jeff Bauman after he lost both legs in the explosion and now they will both be guests of Mrs Obama at the State of the Union address on Tuesday

Moving past it: The two men, seen here at a September 2013 football game, have become close friends

Moving past it: The two men, seen here at a September 2013 football game, have become close friends

He will be accompanied by Nick Chute, an employee of Punch Pizza,  who the White House says has benefited from his employer’s decision to pay a higher minimum wage.

Immigration is also another political battleground between the Republicans and Democrats.

Sitting with the first lady is Cristian Avila of Phoenix, who along with his two younger brothers, were brought to the U.S. illegally when Avila was 9.

Now 23, he is a so-called Dreamer who has benefited from an Obama policy allowing young people who immigrated illegally with their parents to avoid deportation. Avila recently fasted for 22 days to call for an immigration overhaul.

Also sitting in the gallery will be Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors this month after 33 years with the company. GM also benefited from a federal bailout of the auto industry.

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There’s No Ducking It: A&E Again Hires Phil Robertson — after brief suspension, time to cash in

December 28, 2013

2013

A&E suspended Phil Robertson shortly after the interview hit the GQ website.

“Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson came under fire for unfiltered opinions about sin, sex, gays and blacks in a magazine interview.

  • A&E has announced Phil Robertson will return to Duck Dynasty
  • Robertson was briefly suspended after making homophobic comments in GQ magazine
  • The network says it does not endorse Robertson’s views
  • Fans and Christian conservatives came out in force to support Robertson after the suspension
  • Detractors say A&E’s initial response was not sufficient
  • He hasn’t missed a single day of filming

By Alex Greig

 The show will go on: A source told Entertainment Weekly that Phil will star in new fourth season episodes, set to premiere in mid-January. He's pictured above with wife Kay

The show will go on: Robertson’s family will continue starring in the series. He is pictured here with wife Kay in May

Phil Robertson will return to A&E reality show Duck Dynasty in 2014 following his brief suspension for infammatory comments about homosexuality in GQ.

‘After discussions with the Robertson family, as well as consulting with numerous advocacy groups, A&E has decided to resume filming Duck Dynasty later this spring with the entire Robertson family,’ the network said in a statement.

Robertson was put on indefinite hiatus less than two weeks ago by A&E in response to the uproar following the interview.

Reinstated: Phil Robertson won't miss a day of filming after his brief hiatus was reversed by A&E.
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Reinstated: Phil Robertson won’t miss a day of filming after his brief hiatus was reversed by A&E

The removal of the 67-year-old patriarch from the show was lauded by gay rights organizations, but fans of the show denounced it as a violation of Robertson’s right to free speech.

Conservative supporters include Sarah Palin, who wrote in a Facebook post: ‘Free speech is an endangered species. Those intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.’

A&E initially took action after Robertson’s comments caused uproar, saying his views were ‘disappointing’ and that A&E has always been ‘strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.’

Now, the network says the family has made it clear that they are sorry if they caused any offense with the patriarch’s remarks.

‘While Phil’s comments made in the interview reflect his personal views based on his own beliefs, and his own personal journey, he and his family have publicly stated they regret the “coarse language” he used and the mis-interpretation of his core beliefs based only on the article. He also made it clear he would “never incite or encourage hate.” We at A+E Networks expressed our disappointment with his statements in the article, and reiterate that they are not views we hold,’ reads the statement.

United: The Robertson family made it clear they did not want to continue filming Duck Dynasty without patriarch Phil.
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United: The Robertson family made it clear they did not want to continue filming Duck Dynasty without patriarch Phil

The homophobic comments from the born-again Christian included such insights as, ‘ ‘It seems like, to me, a vagina – as a man – would be more desirable than a man’s anus.

‘That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.’

He also grouped homosexuals in with terrorists, saying, ‘We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ‘em, give ‘em the good news about Jesus – whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ‘em out later, you see what I’m saying?’

GLAAD hit back soon after the interview was released online, calling him a ‘stain’ on the network A&E which airs the show.

GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz told E! News: ‘Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.

‘He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans – and Americans – who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.

Disgusted: Reverent Jesse Jackson said Robertson's comments make him worse than the bus driver who infamously sent Rosa Parks to the back of the bus.
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Disgusted: Reverent Jesse Jackson said Robertson’s comments make him worse than the bus driver who infamously sent Rosa Parks to the back of the bus

‘Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.’

In addition to his anti-gay rhetoric, the duck hunter also made dubious remarks regarding Louisiana before the Civil Rights Movement.

‘I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field,’ said Robertson.

‘They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.’

For many, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, who compared Robertson to the driver who sent Rosa Parks to the back of the bus the attempts at damage control by A$E were insufficient.

‘These statements uttered by Robertson are more offensive than the bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, more than 59 years ago,’ Jackson said in a statement obtained by ABC News.

‘At least the bus driver, who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat to a white person, was following state law.

‘Robertson’s statements were uttered freely and openly without cover of the law, within a context of what he seemed to believe was “white privilege.”’

In his statement, the 72-year-old civil rights leader demanded to meet within 72 hours with A&E executives and Cracker Barrel’s CEO to discuss the future of Duck Dynasty memorabilia, which rakes in millions of dollars for the network and its star family.

Jackson also urged the network to uphold Robertson’s indefinite suspension from the popular program.

Stardom: Two of the unlikely reality TV stars of Duck Dynasty, brothers Silas 'Uncle Si' Robertson (left) and Phil Robertson.
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Stardom: Two of the unlikely reality TV stars of Duck Dynasty, brothers Silas ‘Uncle Si’ Robertson (left) and Phil Robertson

Robertson’s many fans and supporters countered with an online petition, called I Stand with Phil, demanding A&E reinstate Robertson to the show.

‘Mr. Robertson’s comments in GQ Magazine are simply reflective of a Biblical view of sexuality, marriage, and family – a view that has stood the test of time for thousands of years and continues to be held by the majority of Americans and today’s world as a whole,’ reads the petition, launched by a conservative Christian organization.

In addition to the petition, conservative Christians rallied behind Robertson by flooding the A&E New York offices with thousands of rubber duckies as part of the Mail The Duck campaign to reinstate the reality star to his show.

Another show of support came in the form of a planned mass eat-in at chicken restaurant Chick-Fil-A.

CEO of the fast food restaurant Dan Cathy faced his own scandal after making anti-gay comments. According to Fox News, supporters are planning a ‘Chick-Phil-A’ day, in which they don camouflage gear and gorge on poultry.

The odd show of support is planned for January 21, according to a Facebook page dedicated to the event.

Robertson supporters are encouraged

to wear ‘Duck Commander or camouflage gear’ to their local Chick-Fil-A restaurant to ‘stand for free speech’ and ‘sit for good food.’

Fast food and freedom: The Facebook page for a planned 'Chick-Phil-A Day' in support of Phil Robertson.
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Fast food and freedom: The Facebook page for a planned ‘Chick-Phil-A Day’ in support of Phil Robertson

It so far has more than 25,000 ‘likes’ and many have expressed their desire to go.

‘IM [sic] with Phil. He is right in what he said and how he believes. I will be eating ckicken [sic] to show support for free speech,’ wrote one.

Another questioned the sudden fervency of the Christian right’s support of free speech.

‘How many of you “free speech advocates” stood up for the Dixie Chicks  when people wanted to kick them off the radio for using their “free  speech”?’

It’s unclear what effect the mass consumption of fried chicken was intended to have on Robertson’s suspension.

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The controversy did no damage to the Robertson coffers, either. Sales for the Duck Dynasty Christmas album soared during the holiday season.

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According to Nielsen, Duck The Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas sold 132,000 during the week of December 22, nearly twice the amount of discs sold since its first week on the shelves in October.

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Sales were high enough to claim the number four spot on the Billboard album charts.

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The definite end of the Duck Commander’s ‘indefinite’ hiatus has been greeted without surprise by media pundits.

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Founder of Business Insider Henry Blodget tweeted, ‘That Phil Robertson “suspension” was the most brilliant marketing stunt ever. Two weeks ago, I had never even heard of Duck Dynasty!’

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Funny or Die host Billy Eichner tweeted, ‘Very excited A&E is resuming Duck Dynasty with Phil Robertson. We need more ignorant homophobic racists who probably hate women on the air.’

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The reality show – which follows the Robertson clan running their duck-calling business in the swampland of West Monroe, Louisiana – has been a runaway success for A&E, with a Christmas special recently pulling in 9 million viewers.

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The millionaire self-described hillbilly’s suspension made no impact on the upcoming season of the show and he has missed no filming time.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2530205/Duck-
Dynasty-resume-filming-Phil-Robertson-A-E-reverses-suspension-a
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Sit-down: Jackson demanded to meet within 72 hours with A&E executives and the CEO of Cracker Barrel restaurants to discuss the future of Duck Dynasty memorabilia.
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Sit-down: Jackson demanded to meet within 72 hours with A&E executives and the CEO of Cracker Barrel restaurants to discuss the future of Duck Dynasty memorabilia
Duck Dynasty products
Duck Dynasty products

Change of heart: Cracker Barrel restaurants briefly pulled some of Phil Robertson’s merchandise from their country stores, but restocked them after facing backlash from their customers

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Back on Phil's side: Cracker Barrel restaurants will go back to selling Phil Robertson products due to customer demand.

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Back on Phil’s side: Cracker Barrel restaurants will go back to selling Phil Robertson products due to customer demand

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Phil Robertson Meets Madonna in Culture War, “Political Correctness”

December 26, 2013

In April 1989, the Pepsi Corporation announced that it was canceling plans to broadcast a television commercial that featured Madonna, then arguably the most popular singer in the world. Madonna had released the music video for “Like a Prayer” a month earlier, and was entering a $5 million ad blitz with Pepsi. The corporation faced relentless pressure from Reverend Donald Wildmon to end its relationship with the controversial singer, and eventually caved to the pressure. The “Like a Prayer” video featured stigmata and burning crosses, but no specific derogatory terminology toward any group.

File:Cher If I Could Turn Back Time Video.jpg

Cher in the music video for “If I Could Turn Back Time”.

This was far from Wildmon’s first religious protest. Throughout the ’70s, he and his American Family Association protested dozens of targets including: Disney World for not preventing LGBT community groups from hosting “gay days” at the theme park; the film The Last Temptation of Christ, for its controversial take on Jesus Christ; and popular TV shows like M*A*S*H* and Dallas for “promoting immoral lifestyles.” Wildmon convinced General Mills, Dominos Pizza and Ralston-Purina to pull ads from Saturday Night Live, because the show didn’t comply with Wildmon’s vision of “Biblical ethic of decency” for America.

If you were involved in American popular culture in any way and you had a different take on Christianity from Wildmon, chances are he was protesting you.

This public history of demanding “political correctness” and obedience from television networks adds thick irony to the Phil Robertson Duck Dynasty drama. Wildmon has retired, no doubt terrorizing some random retirement home for airing HBO, but his son Tim has taken over the AFA, and is leading the charge in defense of Robertson. The AFA and similar groups have claimed that Robertson’s religious freedoms have been impinged and that A&E should have no problem with their bearded star comparing homosexuality to bestiality among other things.

Sarah Palin and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have gotten a lot of ink for their A&E slams, but they’re sideshows in this dispute. Palin is a professional quitter who never saw a microphone she didn’t like, and Jindal is the most unpopular governor in America, still best known for of one of the most awkward speech entrances in recent political history.

Carnival barking politicians aside, it’s groups like Wildmon’s AFA that will keep this fire blazing. As their past lobbying success with television networks shows, this a fervent group that often gets what they want.

If there’s one thing everybody can agree on about Phil Robertson, it’s that he’s honest. His refusal to filter himself, even a little bit, is what made Duck Dynasty so popular and what will also probably cost him his job. Robertson has a right to say whatever he wants, but he doesn’t have the right to be on TV.

The Wildmon family and groups like the American Family Association are not honest. Their interpretation of religious freedom and freedom of speech depend on the speaker. They abhor “political correctness” when Phil Robertson is suspended for bashing gays, but when it’s Madonna, or Ludacris, or any of dozens of other pop culture stars that they don’t agree with, it’s a different story.

If there’s anybody in today’s society who has proven to be ethically dishonest, it’s groups like these.

Follow Thomas Alter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MrTalter

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 The show will go on: A source told Entertainment Weekly that Phil will star in new fourth season episodes, set to premiere in mid-January. He's pictured above with wife Kay

The show will go on: Robertson’s family will continue starring in the series. He is pictured here with wife Kay in May

Reverend Jesse Jackson: Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson Remarks Based Upon “White Privilege” — Demands Meeting With A&E

December 26, 2013
  • Civil rights leader said in a statement that at least the Alabama driver who sent Rosa Parks to the back of the bus was following state law
  • Jackson and LGBT group GLAAD want to meet with A&E and Cracker Barrel execs to discuss future of Duck Dynasty
  • Cracker Barrel decided to go back to selling Phil Robertson’s Duck Dynasty products after briefly pulling them off the shelves

By Daily Mail Reporter

Reverend Jesse Jackson has weighed in on the controversy surrounding Duck Dynasty, comparing Phil Robertson to the driver who had ordered Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus.

The 67-year-old Robertson family patriarch and star of the mega-hit A&E reality show has unleashed a firestorm earlier this month after making anti-gay remarks in a interview with GQ.

Mr Robertson had been quoted in a January 2014 edition of the magazine as saying: ‘It seems like, to me, a vagina – as a man – would be more desirable than a man’s anus.

Jesse Jackson
Phil Robertson

Speaking out: Civil rights leader Reverend Jesse Jackson released a statement condemning Phil Robertson for his recent homophobic remarks

 

Historic reference: Jackson said that Robertson was more offensive than the Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver who ordered Rosa Parks (pictured) to site in the back of the bus in 1959Historic reference: Jackson said that Robertson was more offensive than the Montgomery, Alabama, bus driver who ordered Rosa Parks (pictured) to site in the back of the bus in 1959

 

‘That’s just  me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I  mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not  logical, my man. It’s just not logical.’

In the wake of the scandal, A&E had suspended Robertson from the show and Cracker Barrel restaurants briefly pulled some of his merchandise from their country stores.

But less than 48 hours after that  decision was made, the chain of restaurants was met with flurry of  negative comments from customers and has since decided to restock  Robertson’s products.

For Reverend Jackson and his Rainbow PUSH Coalition, as well as for the LGBT organization GLAAD, these attempts at damage control have been insufficient.

More…

 

‘These statements uttered by Robertson are more offensive than the bus driver in Montgomery, Alabama, more than 59 years ago,’ Jackson said in a statement obtained by ABC News.

‘At least the bus driver, who ordered Rosa Parks to surrender her seat to a white person, was following state law.

Sit-down: Jackson demanded to meet within 72 hours with A&E executives and the CEO of Cracker Barrel restaurants to discuss the future of Duck Dynasty memorabiliaSit-down: Jackson demanded to meet within 72 hours with A&E executives and the CEO of Cracker Barrel restaurants to discuss the future of Duck Dynasty memorabilia

 

Duck Dynasty products
Duck Dynasty products

Change of heart: Cracker Barrel restaurants briefly pulled some of Phil Robertson’s merchandise from their country stores, but restocked them after facing backlash from their customers

 

‘Robertson’s statements were uttered freely and openly without cover of the law, within a context of what he seemed to believe was “white privilege.”’

In his statement, the 72-year-old civil rights leader demanded to meet within 72 hours with A&E executives and Cracker Barrel’s CEO to discuss the future of Duck Dynasty memorabilia.

Jackson also urged the network to uphold Robertson’s indefinite suspension from the popular program.

Back on Phil's side: Cracker Barrel restaurants will go back to selling Phil Robertson products due to customer demandBack on Phil’s side: Cracker Barrel restaurants will go back to selling Phil Robertson products due to customer demand

 

For the most part, sponsors have  stuck behind Robertson. The shows biggest advertiser, Under Armor, stuck with the show after the scandal that started this week.

When Robertson’s comments went public, A&E network said: ‘We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s  comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not  reflected in the series Duck Dynasty.

‘His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have  always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community.

‘The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely,’ said the statement released to Entertainment Weekly.

The show will go on: A source told Entertainment Weekly that Phil will star in new fourth season episodes, set to premiere in mid-January. He's pictured above with wife KayThe show will go on: Robertson’s family will continue starring in the series. He is pictured here with wife Kay in May

However, a source at the network told EW Monday that Phil will be featured in new episodes when the fourth season debuts in mid-January, and that they would ideally like to keep him on for a fifth season.

Uncertain future: Robertson has been suspended from the show by A&E, but he will likely return or the fifth seasonUncertain future: Robertson has been suspended from the show by A&E, but he will likely return or the fifth season

 

According to the source, the network is hoping the situation will blow over during the holiday season.

The reality show – which follows the Robertson clan running their duck-calling business in the swampland of West Monroe, Louisiana – has been a runaway success for A&E, with a Christmas special recently pulling in 9 million viewers.

The 67-year-old came under fire from gay rights group GLAAD after making the homophobic comments in the January 2014 issue of GQ magazine. He told the magazine: ‘Everything is blurred on what’s right and what’s wrong… Sin becomes fine. Start with homosexual behaviour and just morph out from there.

‘Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.’

Robertson, who claims to be devoutly  Christian, also grouped homosexuals in with terrorists and prostitutes  when he referenced a Bible quote in the magazine interview.

He said: ‘Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the  male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards,  the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.  Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.’

Since its initial air date of March 21, 2012, Duck Dynasty has grown in the  ratings for A&E, eventually becoming a ratings hit for the cable  network.

On August 14,  2013, the fourth season première nabbed 11.8 million viewers, making the show the most-watched nonfiction series telecast in the history of  cable television.

The fourth season of the show begins on January 15.

 

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Firestorm Over Duck Dynasty Remarks, Counter Attacks

December 21, 2013

A&E suspended Phil Robertson shortly after the interview hit the GQ website.

For a few hours, it looked like Americans would quietly accept the suspension of popular “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson for his unfiltered opinions about sin, sex, gays and blacks in a magazine interview.

But then, as if on cue, hundreds of thousands of fans of the openly Christian, duck-hunting businessman took to social networks and started their backlash.

As of Thursday night, more than 1.1 million people “liked” the “Stand With Phil Robertson” Facebook page, while about the same number had clicked their support for another Facebook page called “Boycott A&E Until Phil Robertson Is Put Back On Duck Dynasty.” There was even flak on the Web page of the gay advocacy group that demanded his firing.

By Cheryl Wetzstein
The Washington Times

The family itself is backing Mr. Robertson and implied Thursday evening that the show may be canceled, or at a minimum moved off the A&E Network unless he can return.

“We are disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm,” the Robertsons wrote on their website, duckcommander.com.

“We are in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of ‘Duck Dynasty.’ Again, thank you for your continued support of our family,” they concluded.

Some Republican politicians, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, spoke in defense of Mr. Robertson, and traditional values groups added their voices to the cultural moment.

“Don’t apologize for what the Bible calls a sin. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY to stand with Phil,” said one Facebook poster, using one of Mr. Robertson’s pet phrases.


                SEE RELATED: ‘Duck Dynasty’ star Phil Robertson’s pre-A&E same as post-A&E: Homosexuality is a sin    


Sadly, being “happy” was not how Mr. Robertson answered a GQ magazine reporter’s question about “what, in your mind, is sinful?”

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” Mr. Robertson replied in the GQ article, released Wednesday.

Then, paraphrasing Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians on sin, Mr. Robertson said, “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

These and other comments about being “white trash” hoeing cotton with black farmhands and not recalling black people “singing the blues” until after major welfare programs were established in the 1960s, earned Mr. Robertson an indefinite suspension from the reality TV show that stars him and his family — and attracts nearly 12 million viewers.

“We are extremely disappointed to have read Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, which are based on his own personal beliefs and are not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty,” A&E executives said in a statement Wednesday. “His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.”

Mr. Robertson also issued a statement, referencing his sinful past and how his “mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together.”

“However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other,” Mr. Robertson said.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation thanked A&E Network for suspending the 67-year-old, gray-bearded patriarch.

It’s “clear that such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable to fans, viewers and networks alike,” said GLAAD spokesman Wilson Cruz. Putting Mr. Robertson on hiatus “sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value.”

In their letter to A&E President and CEO Nancy Dubuc, leaders of the Human Rights Campaign and NAACP asked her to denounce and repudiate Mr. Robertson’s “racist and homophobic remarks.”

“Americans won’t stand for Phil Robertson’s comments,” they said.

Gay-rights supporters took their outrage about Mr. Robertson’s “vile” remarks to social media. Many shared a 2010 “gay-bashing” video of Mr. Robertson, posted by TMZ, in which he lamented “women with women, men with men.”

But on Thursday, Robertson supporters were answering back in droves.

“If you believe in free speech or religious liberty, you should be deeply dismayed over the treatment of Phil Robertson. Phil expressed his personal views and his own religious faith; for that, he was suspended from his job,” Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, wrote on his Facebook page.

The “mainstream media should not behave as the thought police censoring the views with which they disagree,” the senator said. “The reason that so many Americans love Duck Dynasty is because it represents the America usually ignored or mocked by liberal elites: a family that loves and cares for each other, believes in God, and speaks openly about their faith.”

Mr. Jindal, who praised Mr. Robertson and his family as “great citizens of the State of Louisiana,” noted that “the politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with.”

He noted the cultural double standards surrounding public misbehavior, saying “it is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”

Mrs. Palin also weighed in on her Facebook page: “Free speech is an endangered species. Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

Even GLAAD’s Facebook page was filled with comments supporting Phil Robertson. “I have never said a negative word about your community, but, that changes today!” wrote one man. “GLAAD I thought you guys stood against Bullying. Wow talk about practice what your preach,” wrote a woman.

As of Thursday night, some 311,000 people had signed a National Organization for Marriage petition asking A&E to reinstate Mr. Robertson and “right this wrong.”

“Duck Dynasty” is set to begin its fifth season Jan. 15. Mr. Robertson is expected to appear in a few episodes that were taped before his suspension, according to media reports.

Other prominent figures also have been publicly chastised for their views about homosexuality.

Wyoming political candidate Liz Cheney was denounced for saying she loved her sister, Mary Cheney, but not same-sex marriage.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his political allies have been condemned for enacting a law that prohibits “propaganda” to youths about “nontraditional sexual relationships.”

The Russian law has politicized the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Gay-rights activists have talked about protests, and President Obama has asked gay athletes, notably tennis champion Billie Jean King and skater Brian Boitano, to attend the ceremonies as part of the U.S. Olympic delegation.
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Patriarch Off ‘Duck Dynasty’ After He Quacks Too Much About Gays

December 19, 2013

Willie Robertson, left, Phil Robertson, center, and Si Robertson star in the A&E reality series “Duck Dynasty.”

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson is off the hit A&E reality series indefinitely after disparaging gays as sinners akin to adulterers and swindlers, the network said.

A&E announced Wednesday what it called a “hiatus” for Robertson, 67, after he disparaged gays in the January edition of GQ magazine. He also said that, growing up in Louisiana before the Civil Rights movement, he never saw mistreatment of blacks.

In a statement, A&E said it was extremely disappointed to see Robertson’s anti-gay remarks, which it said were based on his personal beliefs and do not reflect those of A&E Networks or the show. A&E called itself a supporter of the lesbian and gay community.

The channel’s move was lauded by the gay civil rights group GLAAD, which had quickly condemned Robertson’s comments.

“What’s clear is that such hateful anti-gay comments are unacceptable to fans, viewers, and networks alike,” said GLAAD spokesman Wilson Cruz. Robertson’s removal “has sent a strong message that discrimination is neither a Christian nor an American value.”

Robertson and his extended family became wealthy manufacturing duck calls and were turned into TV and pop culture stars by “Duck Dynasty,” which has set cable ratings records for a non-fiction series. Several family members appeared in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

In his GQ interview, Robertson was asked his definition of sinful behavior.

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there,” such as bestiality, he said.

“Don’t be deceived,” he was quoted in GQ. “Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Robertson and his family had no comment on his hiatus, A&E said on their behalf. He may be in some already taped scenes when the show returns Jan. 15 for its fifth season, a network spokesman said.

Robertson did respond after criticism of his GQ remarks.

“I myself am a product of the ’60s” who indulged in sex and drugs until hitting bottom and accepting Jesus as his savior, he said in a statement. Although his mission is to teach people that men and women are meant to be together, Robertson said he “would never treat anyone with disrespect” because they are different.

In the interview, he also said that in his Louisiana youth he picked cotton with African-Americans and never saw “the mistreatment of any black person. Not once.”

“We’re going across the field…. They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ – not a word!” Robertson told CQ.

A&E said it had received no complaints about those remarks.

**********************************

‘Duck Dynasty’ star slammed over anti-gay rant

Phil Roberston hangs out in his Duck Commander workshop Photo: Anne Wermiel

Phil Robertson, patriarch of the “Duck Dynasty” clan, is being slammed for controversial comments he made about homosexuality in an interview in the January issue of GQ.

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me,” Robertson told the magazine. “I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

When the reporter asked Robertson what he found sinful, he said “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

The self-proclaimed Bible-thumper then went on to paraphrase Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

On Wednesday, GLAAD called Robertson’s statements “vile” and “littered with outdated stereotypes.”

“Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe,” said GLAAD spokesperson Wilson Cruz. “He clearly knows nothing about gay people or the majority of Louisianans — and Americans — who support legal recognition for loving and committed gay and lesbian couples.

“Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families.”

An A&E spokesman had no comment, but Robertson released his own statement responding to the controversy.

“I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior,” he said. “My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the Bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together.

“However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

“Duck Dynasty” has been a ratings phenomenon for A&E, drawing 11.8 million viewers to its fourth season premiere last August, the most-watched nonfiction series telecast in cable history.

Its fifth season premieres on Jan. 15.

Vietnam’s Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Frees Two Pro-Democracy Activists

August 18, 2013

HANOI (Reuters) – A Vietnam appeals court on Friday halved the eight-year jail term of a dissident and cut the six-year term of another to three years of house arrest, sources familiar with the verdict said, in a rare step welcomed by human rights activists.

Nguyen Phuong Uyen, a 21-year-old student, received a six-year prison term in mid-May, while Dinh Nguyen Kha, 25, got eight years after the two were held guilty of distributing “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.

photo_1376667461804-1-HD.jpg

Nguyen Phuong Uyen (right) and Dinh Nguyen Kha stand trial in the  southern province of Long An on May 16. A Vietnamese court on Friday overturned  a six-year jail term handed to a student activist, freeing her on the spot in a  rare show of leniency by the authoritarian nation. (Vietnam News agency/AFP/File)

Communist Vietnam has taken a tough line on dissent, with arrests and convictions on the rise in the last three years in the one-party state.

On Friday, the Supreme Court’s Court of Appeal suspended Uyen’s sentence, giving her three years of house arrest instead, three sources said after a hearing in the Mekong Delta province of Long An. It also ruled that Kha had to serve four years.

Court officials in Long An could not be reached for comment.

Nguyen Phuong Uyen

Vietnam’s court of appeals usually upholds sentences given by lower courts, and it is rare for a six-year term to be reduced to a three-year suspended sentence.

The decision was a positive result of sustained pressure on Vietnam, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said.

“It’s likely that international pressure had something to do with this outcome,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the group’s Asia division, said in a statement.

Dinh Nguyen Kha

“While this result is beyond expectations, it doesn’t change the fact that these two should have never been charged or imprisoned in the first place.”

Uyen and Kha became friends last year with a Vietnamese living in Thailand, before joining an anti-Vietnam movement and distributing leaflets critical of the state on several occasions until they were arrested last October.

Human Rights Watch had criticized the trial, urging Vietnam’s donors and diplomats to stop their support of the Southeast Asian country, which has a population of 90 million.

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Vietnam Releases Two Convicted of a “National Security Crime” — First of Its Kind Show of Clemency

August 17, 2013
HANOI, Vietnam August 17, 2013 (AP)
            By CHRIS BRUMMITT Associated Press

A Vietnamese appeals court overturned a six-year prison sentence against a dissident and halved the jail term of another in a rare show of leniency by the country’s Communist authorities.

The decision followed meetings last month between President Barack Obama and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. Obama pressed Vietnam to take concrete steps to improve its human rights record — a major sticking point in ties between the countries.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – JULY 25: President Barack Obama meets with President Truong Tan Sang of Vietnam in the Oval Office on July 25, 2013 in Washington, D.C. The visit is seen as an important step in improving U.S.-Vietnam relations. Mr. Sang is the second Vietnamese president to visit the White House since 1995. (Photo by Dennis Brack-Pool/Getty Images)

Nguyen Phuong Uyen, 21, was convicted of violating national security laws in May for distributing leaflets against the Communist Party and sentenced to six years. The appeals court on Friday changed that sentence to a 3-year suspended one and released her. It halved the eight-year sentence against fellow activist, 25-year-old Dinh Nguyen Kha.

Nguyen Phuong Uyen

A lawyer who was in the court, Nguyen Thanh Luong, said judges cited their young age in the decision.

He said he believed it was the first time that an appeals court had freed someone convicted of a national security crime.

“This is a positive sign, and this should be encouraged,” Luong said Saturday.

Dinh Nguyen Kha

Vietnam’s Communist leaders have delivered rising living standards and security to the country of 90 million people since embracing economic reforms in the 1980s. But they do not allow any challenge to their one-party rule and routinely arrest critics.

The rapid spread of the Internet in the country in the last five years has opened new avenues for dissent. This is alarming the government, which previously had a monopoly over most information. At least 46 people, many of them bloggers, have been convicted and sentenced for dissident activities this year.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said international pressure likely played a part in the appeal court’s decision.

“This shows that sustained pushing on human rights in Vietnam can have positive results,” said the group’s Asia director, Phil Robertson. “The international community should learn from this experience and re-double their efforts to demand Vietnam respect the civil and political rights of its people.”

Related:

Neither The Leadership Of The U.S. Or Vietnam Appear To Care Much About Human Rights: “The human rights issue is being finessed,” Expert Says

July 23, 2013

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — American concerns over the arrests of dissidents and other human rights abuses in Vietnam shouldn’t stand in the way of closer military and economic ties with the Southeast Asian nation, the country’s president said Tuesday ahead of talks in Washington with President Barack Obama.

BY CHRIS BRUMMITT / Associated Press Writer / July 23, 2013

President Truong Tan Sang’s remarks, made in emailed responses to questions by The Associated Press, are a sign of Vietnam’s desire to strengthen relations with the United States, a country with which it shares concerns over Chinese assertiveness in the region.

Sang’s trip to the United States is only the second such visit by a head of state since the former foes resumed relations in 1995. He will meet President Obama on Thursday.

Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang, back center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, back right, watch as military officers shake hands during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday, June 19, 2013. AP/Mark Ralston, Pool

The United States is also seeking closer ties with Vietnam, part of its strategic ‘‘rebalancing’’ toward Asia, which is emerging as a vital partner for the sluggish economies of the West. But it wants to see the communist country release dissidents. Some officials have said progress on a closer relationship was contingent on an improved human rights record.

On human rights, Sang said that in Vietnam ‘‘the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people are respected.’’

Asked about American concerns about the arrests of bloggers, he said:  ‘‘There are a number of differences between Vietnam and the United States including those on human rights, but this is quite normal.’’

‘‘It is my hope that after five years of no exchanges of high-level visits between the two countries, my official visit to the United States this time will contribute to elevating Vietnam-US relations into a profound, efficient and substantive framework,’’ he said.

The invitation by Obama for talks at the White House took some analysts by surprise, who suggested that Washington’s desire to shift its military and diplomatic focus to Asia had trumped its stated concerns over human rights in Vietnam.

‘‘It looks like the human rights issue is being finessed. Behind closed doors Obama can raise the concerns, but it’s obviously not going to feature prominently,’’ said Carl Thayer, an expert on Vietnam at the University of New South Wales in Australia. ‘‘For Obama, it is ‘how do you get more jobs for Americans.’ You sell more in Asia, that’s the larger gain.’’

Both sides are expected to discuss a trade pact that Washington is negotiating with Vietnam and 10 other Asia-Pacific nations, which the Obama administration wants signed by the end of the year. Two-way trade between the U.S. and Vietnam totaled $26 billion last year. Vietnam’s leaders, presiding over a stuttering economy, are also under pressure to deliver stronger economic growth.

The U.S. has been forging closer military links with Vietnam in recent years, with port calls and officer exchanges, but has yet to lift an embargo on lethal weapons imposed since 1984. U.S. officials have said they were considering lifting it, but there is no sign of this happening soon. Thayer said Vietnam was unlikely to purchase weapons from the United States, preferring Eastern European sellers, but that the ban was seen as discriminatory by some in the ruling party.

Asked whether he wanted it lifted, Sang said ‘‘I believe it is now the time for our bilateral relations to be fully normalized in all fields in the interests of the two countries, and for peace, cooperation and development in the Asia-Pacific region.’’

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, questioned why Sang would get a White House visit given Vietnam’s record.

‘‘Why would this happen at this time, when there has been such a concerned crackdown on freedom of expression,’’ he said. ‘‘Now the onus is on President Barack Obama to make sure that human rights doesn’t slip from the agenda. The United States has to publicly state its concerns and press the government of Vietnam to make real steps.’’

President Truong Tan Sang (far right) walking with Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong (C), and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (L), in Hanoi, May 20, 2013. (Photo credit AFP).

President Truong Tan Sang

****************************

A WELL-KNOWN Vietnamese blogger, jailed for 12 years for anti-state  propaganda, is “very weak” after a month-long hunger strike protesting at his  treatment in prison, his family says.   

AFP

Nguyen Van Hai - a founding member of the banned Free Journalists Club who is  better known by his alias Dieu Cay – has not eaten for 30 days, according to his  ex-wife Duong Thi Tan.

“He is very weak… He spoke softly and couldn’t sit up unaided,” she told  AFP, following a visit to the prison by the couple’s son on Saturday.

She said Dieu Cay went on hunger strike to protest against his treatment in a  prison in central Nghe An province, adding that her son had been allowed to talk  to his father for five minutes “before they dragged him away”.

“He was kept in solitary confinement for three months when he did not violate  any rule,” she said, accusing the jail of having “extremely bad” conditions.

nguyen-van-hai-305

Photo: Blogger Nguyen Van Hai (pen name Dieu Cay) in happier times

“He said he would continue the hunger strike if authorities do not respond to  his complaint,” Tan told AFP.

The family were “very worried” that the new hunger strike would endanger his  health, she said.

Dieu Cay, whose case has been raised by US President Barack Obama, was  sentenced in September 2012 along with two other bloggers who received jail  terms of 10 years and four years.

The blogger has been on hunger strike once before for 28 days, in late 2011,  also to protest at his treatment in jail. He ended up in hospital in Ho Chi Minh  City before agreeing to end his fast.

Dozens of peaceful political activists have been jailed since Vietnam began a  new crackdown on dissent in late 2009.

Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are  state-run. Lawyers, bloggers and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary  arrest and detention, according to rights groups

Related:

Dr. Quan in happier times. He is now in jail in Vietnam.

Related:

Photo

Above: Prominent Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan — He remains in jail in Vietnam.

Nguyen Phuong Uyen.  In jail in Vietnam. Photo by Dan Lam Bao

Vietnamese blogger Dinh Nhat Uy — in jail in Vietnam.


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