VIETNAMESE GOVERNMENT CONTROL OF THE INTERNET

INTERNET AS A THREAT TO THE VIETNAMESE GOVERNMENT

The Internet has emerged as a vital outlet and organizing tool for dissidents in recent years, and there has been a surge of blogs and Facebook pages highlighting criticism of the government. The Vietnamese government can control what is written in newspapers and shown on television but it can’t control the Internet and dissidents have turned to the Internet to disseminate their views. The Internet is worrisome to the government because controversial topics can be discussed openly such as criticism of government and calls for democracy and messages from ant-Communist Vietnamese in Orange County, California can easily be disseminated.

Andrew Lam wrote in New American Media: Internet access went from 200,000 users in 2000 to 30,802,000 users in 2012. Facebook entered the country last year and has quickly captured 10.5 million users, or nearly 12 percent of the population. "The growth of the Internet is endangering the government," Le Quoc Quan, an internationally renowned lawyer and democracy activist whose popular blog pushes for a multiparty system and more human rights, told the Associated Press last year. "People can actually read news now. There is a thirst for democracy in our country." Vietnam convicted 14 bloggers and democracy activists last week for plotting to overthrow the governing, and some received 13 years jail term. Quan was arrested not long after his interview. [Source: Andrew Lam, New American Media, January 24, 2013 \\\\]

"More and more people are blogging their frustrations and anger. But whether or not the general population does in fact thirst for democracy and want revolution is not clear. It’s a citizenry that has no organized opposition, no charismatic leadership that could challenge the status quo, and no serious conversation on a new national direction. And despite the urgings of leading activists like Dr. Nguyen Dang Que, who before his arrest in 2011, posted online a call for young people to use their cell phones to make a "clean sweep of Communist dictatorship," it’s far from certain that ordinary cell phone users perceive the new technology as a potential tool for revolution ala Arab Spring. \\\\

"What is clear, however, is that the wind of change is blowing. There's a growing collective discontent against injustices and corruption, and the new communication architecture has loosened the tongue of the general population. And the more informed, the more restless they become. Whether they know it or not, by sharing and swapping information on a national scale the Vietnamese are making revolution happen, one text at a time. \\\\

Vietnamese Government Control of the Internet

The government has allowed the Internet since 1997 but keeps a tight control of it. It has said will regularly inspect Internet cafes, service providers and content providers in Ho Chi Minh City for pornographic and anti-government material In 2006, Vietnam was named by Reporters Without Borders as one of 13 worst countries for online censorship.

The Vietnamese government imposes restrictions on Internet use and access. It controls Internet access via Vietnam’s sole gateway, Vietnam Data Communications. In 2002 the Ministry of Culture and Information began to block access to Internet Web sites it considers "subversive," such as the BBC’s Vietnamese language Web site. Also in 2002, the government sent a warning by jailing activists for publishing critical commentaries on the Internet. Altogether, Reporters Without Borders documented seven cases of dissidents being imprisoned or detained for illicit Internet use. The government also has tightened controls over cybercafés. In 2004 the government reprimanded 65 cybercafé owners for violating restrictions on Internet access, including the viewing of pornography. [Source: Library of Congress]

According to Freedom House: "Rising internet penetration has posed problems for the CPV, which seeks to promote new technology as well as restrict online criticism. Approximately 35 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2011, with the vast majority utilizing internet cafés and other public providers. Website operators continue to use internet service providers (ISPs) that are either wholly or partly state owned. The largest is Vietnam Data Communications, which is controlled by the state-owned Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications Group and serves nearly a third of all internet users. ISPs are legally required to block access to websites that are considered politically unacceptable. [Source: Freedom House |:|]

Foreign news sites remain intermittently accessible. The Vietnamese-language services of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Voice of America (VOA), and Radio Free Asia (RFA) were repeatedly blocked in 2011. In 2008, the MIC formed an agency to monitor the internet and blogosphere. Though the government has denied using cyberattacks to monitor and prevent dissident activity, malicious programs attached to downloadable Vietnamese-language software and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, which overwhelm servers and websites with traffic, frequently target politically sensitive websites. |:|

Police have raided Internet cafes in Ho Chi Minh City and carted the compute terminals away. UPI reported: "Vietnam has cracked down on Internet cafes in its ongoing efforts to control illegal content ranging from explicit sex to anti-government documents. The latest rules, backed by four Vietnamese agencies and imposed last month, require Internet cafe owners to register the name, age, address and identification number of people who go online."These regulations answer public concern about the bad environment shown by the majority of Internet cafes," said Do Quy Doan, deputy minister of the Telecommunications, Culture and Information ministry. "Many people have come and told us to do something right away if we don't want to have to deal with more evil dens later on." A student said Vietnam's Internet control efforts seem more political than moral.[Source: United Press International - August 17, 2005]

Crackdowns on Bloggers and Internet “Propaganda”

Reuters reported: Vietnam has repeatedly drawn fire for the harsh treatment and lengthy jail terms it has given to bloggers who criticized its one-party regime. The number of arrests and convictions has soared in the last four years. Rights groups and foreign governments have come down hard on Vietnam over its draconian cyber laws, including the United States, which has urged Vietnam to improve its human rights record to strengthen its case for stronger trade ties. Media freedom campaigners Reporters Without Borders calls the country "an enemy of the internet". [Source: Reuters, November 27, 2013]

“Bloggers have been imprisoned for up to 12 years. Some bloggers are arrested under Article 258 of the Penal Code for "abusing democratic freedoms," an offense that carries up to seven years in prison. The government says no one has been jailed for peacefully expressing their views, only those who break the law.

Chris Brummitt of Associated Press wrote: In televised testimony to the lawmaking National Assembly, a government minister said the Internet has brought huge benefits to Vietnam since it was introduced there in 1997, but he warned of the negative impact of online dissent. "Recently, opportunist elements in the country and the overseas hostile forces have abused the Internet to spread information that sabotaged the country, distorted the policy of our Party and state," Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son said. [Source: Chris Brummitt, Associated Press June 14, 2013 <<<]

“Unlike China, the government is unable to enforce a firewall or efficiently block access to websites. Vietnam's problems are now compounded because Internet business and commerce are important for future economic growth, yet cracking down on Internet freedom would also cut into that prospect. American Internet firms like Google and Facebook want to do more business in the country, but are wary of the regulatory environment. Dao's blog appeared to be hosted by blogger, Google's blogging platform, highlighting the problems. <<<

In September 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported: “Hanoi initiated a ban of people copying and pasting news articles and other information on blogs—which could restrict the growth of informal news portals. Vice minister of information and communications, Do Quay Doan, said the curbs aren't designed to limit free speech but to manage the rapid growth of the Internet in Vietnam. Other officials said the rules also will protect intellectual property. People familiar with the situation say that Vietnam backed off some of the more stringent provisions in its new Internet rules, known as Decree 72. At one point Hanoi had planned to require companies such as Google and Yahoo! to host servers in Vietnam, potentially leaving the companies vulnerable to pressure from authorities to hand over user data. Authorities also backtracked from proposals to ban Facebook or Twitter users posting web-links on their pages. [Source: Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2013]

Blocking and Filtering Internet Sites in Vietnam Emphasizes Politics

The Communist Party has implemented firewall and surveillance technology to limit access through the Internet. Vietnam's firewall denies access to thousands of websites that government censors consider objectionable, with a special emphasis on blocking democracy-related content. In 2006, Frank Zeller of Agence France Presse reported: "Vietnam's increasingly sophisticated Internet censors mostly block political rather than pornographic content, a new study by several of the world's top universities has found. The communist nation "is focusing its filtering on sites considered threatening to its one-party system," said the report by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI) of the Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Toronto universities. The state is targeting websites, blogs, email and online discussion forums, said the study released internationally this week. "While Vietnam claims its blocking efforts are aimed at safeguarding the country against obscene or sexually explicit content, most of its filtering efforts are aimed at blocking sites with politically or religiously sensitive material that could undermine Vietnam's one-party system," it said. [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, August 10, 2006 <<<<]

"Vietnam mainly filters out sites on political dissidents, other regime opponents and human rights issues as well as pages on religious freedom, Buddhism and the mainly Christian Montagnard ethnic minorities, it said. "Surprisingly, Vietnam does not block any pornographic content, despite the state's putative focus on preventing access to sexually explicit material," said the report posted at http://www.opennet.net/studies/vietnam/ The government denied the claims. "Our policy is to apply measures to prevent youngsters from unhealthy sites," Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung told a regular press briefing. "We do not apply any measures for political goals. Our policy is to broaden Internet access for our students." <<<<

"By Asian standards, he said, "the rate of Internet users is rather high." The 2005-2006 ONI study found the "technical sophistication, breadth and effectiveness" of the filtering are increasing, and that the government has targeted Vietnamese-language sites more than those in English and French. "Vietnam's Internet censorship regime shares aspects of the Chinese regime, reflecting the close ties between these states," said John Palfrey, head of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. "Since 2001, we've seen more and more sophisticated Internet filtering systems put in place." <<<<

"Vietnam bans tools used to bypass filtering and prohibits web-surfers from using foreign Internet service providers (ISPs), researchers said. The two main local ISPs, FPT and VNPT, "filtered high percentages of politically sensitive content, including content related to political opposition, pro-democracy movements and human rights." <<<<

Vietnamese law criminalises use of the Internet to oppose the state or to destabilize national security, the economy or social order. One of Vietnam's most prominent jailed dissidents, Pham Hong Son, is serving a five-year sentence for translating and publishing online an article entitled 'What is Democracy' from the US State Department's website. The OpenNet report pointed out that cybercafes are required to track all websites their customers visit and record their ID card or credit card numbers. "Similar to China, Vietnam has taken a multi-layered approach to controlling the Internet," said the study. "Vietnam applies technical controls, the law and education to restrict its citizens' access to and use of information." <<<<

"Vietnam purports to prevent access to Internet sites primarily to safeguard against obscene or sexually explicit content," the report said. "However, the state's actual motives are far more pragmatic." Vietnam's Internet service providers did not block any of the pornography sites tested but filtered most of the sites "with politically or religiously sensitive material that could undermine Vietnam's one-party system." Derek Bambauer, a research fellow with OpenNet Initiative, told AP that Vietnam's filtering got more sophisticated in just the six months studied. The report found filtering the responsibility of government-owned or -licensed service providers, with the two main ones in Vietnam taking different approaches. One uses traditional filtering, and attempts to access a banned site produce a message saying the site had been blocked. The other took records of the banned sites out of its domain-name servers completely, producing "site not found" errors as if the sites had never existed, Bambauer said. "It's something we've seen in isolated incidents in other states," he said. "It's the first widescale usage of this technique." [Source: Anick Jesdanun, Associated Press, August 9, 2006]

Facebook in Vietnam: Why the Block Doesn't Work

Facebook is blocked with controls that are easily bypassed. So easily bypassed in fact that Facebook has advertised for a range of staff for its Vietnam branch and computer and cell phone companies advertise access to Facebook in Vietnam even though it is officially banned by the government. Facebook’s want ad for a Policy and Growth Manager lists "ensuring the site's accessibility" and having "experience in government relations work" as key responsibilities.

Helen Clark wrote in Global Post in 2010, "Upon first glance, the Nokia billboards for the new C3 phone were not remarkable in any way. Vietnam, like many countries in the region, is mobile phone-crazy, and ads for different companies pepper major cities. But what was remarkable about this particular ad campaign was that it promoted the phones' access to Facebook chat — which, along with the rest of Facebook, is blocked in Vietnam." [Source: Helen Clark, Global Post, October 4, 2010 ***]

"How can a company get away with such a brazen breach of the block? For starters experts say it isn’t much of a block. Vietnam’s answer to China’s Great Firewall is more of a smoldering bamboo fence — an inconvenience more than an outright prohibition. Vietnam first blocked Facebook toward the end of 2009, as part of a haphazard block that the government has never directly acknowledged. A supposed draft regulation outlining eight blocked sites, including Facebook, made the rounds on the internet. Soon after, various internet service providers (ISPs) started blocking the social networking site, sometimes for days. But a couple weeks later, everyone was fiddling with their domain name system (DNS) settings to get around the firewall or using Facebook Lite, a pared-down version that was still accessible. Marketing consultant Nguyen Thanh Hai said, via Facebook chat, "it's not a strong block, you just change the DNS." ***

"Unlike China, which blocks websites at an ISP level, Vietnam does so at the DNS level. What this means, as one IT expert explained, is that the government simply tells service providers to redirect their servers away from sites as opposed to actually blocking their access. The upshot is that it's easier to circumnavigate Vietnam's firewall than it is China's, where an estimated 30,000 censors search for illicit content on the internet. "This is trivially easy to circumvent," said the IT expert, who wished to remain anonymous. "All you need do is change your DNS provider to one of the publicly available ones. Google DNS is a great example." The ease of the workaround and no official mention of sanctions mean Facebook users, which number over a million in Vietnam, can plead innocence. Users chat online, tag photos and play Farm Ville. Overseas businesses in Vietnam, apart from Nokia, continue to advertise on Facebook, though some say off the record that they worry about the legality of doing so. Some, such as skin care line Clean and Clear, use Zing, a locally produced social networking site popular with a younger demographic than Facebook. ***

"Unlike a widely publicized 2008 government regulation that told bloggers in Vietnam what they could and could not write about, the Facebook block was barely mentioned by government officials. Local news site Vietnam Net Bridge reported in its lead story, weeks after the block began: "The Foreign Ministry has confirmed that in response to public concern, official agencies are evaluating the contents of certain social websites." Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said, "a number of social websites have been misused to convey information with contents (sic) that oppose the Democratic Socialist Republic of Vietnam … threatening information security." Without saying much Nga confirmed that the government blocked Facebook for the reasons analysts suspected: a group of activists started a page opposing the country’s multi-billion dollar bauxite mine in the Central Highlands. ***

Repression of the Internet in Vietnam

According to Human Rights Watch: “The government does not allow independent or privately-owned domestic media to operate and exerts strict control over the press and internet. Criminal penalties apply to authors, publications, websites, and internet users who disseminate materials deemed to oppose the government, threaten national security, reveal state secrets, or promote "reactionary" ideas. The government blocks access to politically sensitive websites, requires internet cafe owners to monitor and store information about users’ online activities, and subjects independent bloggers and online critics to harassment and pressure. [Source: Human Rights Watch World Report 2012 ^^^]

Authorities continue to harass, interrogate, and in some cases detain and imprison online critics. In January 2011 police arrested human rights blogger Ho Thi Bich Khuong. In May democracy advocate Nguyen Kim Nhan was arrested for allegedly conducting propaganda against the state, five months after he was released from prison on the same charge. In August blogger Lu Van Bay was sentenced to four years for his pro-democracy articles published on the Internet. Also in August blogger Pham Minh Hoang was sentenced to three years for subversion. ^^^

Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, In March 2006, plainclothes officers detained two renowned writers at a public Internet cafe usually frequented by foreign tourists and took pictures of the websites they had viewed, which included the banned website of the Free Vietnam Alliance democracy group. One of the writers, Nguyen Khac Toan, had previously served three years of a 12-year sentence for sending reports about disgruntled farmers over the Internet to exiled Vietnamese democracy groups. [Source: Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, July 6, 2006]

Bloggers Behind Bars in Vietnam

In 2012, Reporters Without Borders says there were at least five journalists and 19 bloggers being held on various charges in Vietnam. The crackdowns have been going on for some time. According to an Amnesty International report from December 2003, dissidents have been jailed for using the Internet to criticize the government and express pro-democracy views. Six defendants were given sentences of 12 years. An employee with a drug company was sentenced to 13 years in prison for exchanging e-mails with an overseas democrat group and handing out pro-democracy brochures made with material downloaded from a U.S. government website.

According to Freedom House: "Vietnam has one of the largest numbers of bloggers behind bars worldwide, and conditions for cyberactivists and online journalists continued to deteriorate during 2011. Former high-level party member Viu'c Hoi was sentenced in January to eight years in prison followed by five years of house arrest (later reduced to five years in prison and three years of house arrest by an appeals court) for posting online commentaries that were critical of the government. French-Vietnamese blogger Pham Minh Hoàng was found guilty in August of "undermin[ing] national security," having been arrested in 2010 for writings that call for democracy in Vietnam. He was sentenced to three years in prison followed by three years of house arrest, though in November strong international pressure prompted an appeals court to reduce his prison term to 17 months. [Source: Freedom House |:|]

Within weeks of each other in July and August, Dang Xuân Dieu, Ho Du'c Hòa, Nguyen Van Duyet, and Paulus Lê Son, all contributors to Vietnam Redemptorist News, an online outlet covering the persecution of Roman Catholics, were arrested under Article 79 of the criminal code for activities aimed at overthrowing the government. Also in August, an appeals court upheld a seven-year prison sentence for blogger and activist Cù Huy Hà Vu and sentenced opposition blogger Lu Van Bay to four years in prison plus three years of house arrest. Both trials lasted less than one day, and Bay was not permitted access to a lawyer. Popular blogger Nguyen Van Ha?i, who blogs under the name "Dieu Cày," continued to be held incommunicado after completing a 30-month prison sentence in 2010 on trumped-up tax evasion charges. The status of his health and whereabouts were unknown. Blogger Phan Thanh Hai, arrested in 2010 for writings that were critical of Vietnamese-Chinese relations and advocated changes to restrictive provisions in the criminal code, also remained in detention without formal charges at year’s end. |:|

In September 2012, Associated Press reported: "Vietnam's communist rulers have ordered a crackdown on anti-government blogs, two of which immediately pledged defiance against the one-party state. A government statement on Wednesday named three blogs it accused of "publishing distorted and fabricated articles" against the leadership. "This is a wicked plot of the hostile forces," it said, adding that Vietnamese state employees were forbidden from visiting the sites. The statement said the prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, had ordered police to investigate the sites and bring offenders to justice. [Source: Associated Press, September 13, 2012 <*>]

Reaction was swift from two of the named sites, which feature posts by mostly anonymous contributors that criticise government corruption and alleged human rights abuses. Danlambao, or the People's Journalism Blog, said it would keep publishing. "Danlambao and its companions are prepared to be repressed and imprisoned rather than leading the life of a dumb dog that dares not bark, subservient to those who abuse their power," it posted. Quanlambao, meaning Official Journalism, also responded, saying Dung's move was aimed at creating the legal basis to make arrests. <*> Vietnam Convicts 14 Blogger-Activists of 'Anti-state' Crimes

In January 2013, Global Post reported: " Fourteen bloggers were convicted of "anti-state" crimes today in the central Vietnamese city of Vinh, after a swift two-day-trial that many human rights defenders have been swift to condemn. Thirteen of the convicted were given jail sentences between three and 13 years, coupled with house-arrest sentences of varying lengths. Twelve of the convicted are men, and two are women, while the majority are affiliated with the Catholic church, according to Human Rights Watch sources. "I pray and hope that soon the society of Vietnam will have truth and justice. I fully accept and will endure any and all suppression under this regime," said 24-year-old Catholic activist Tran Minh Nhat in his final testimony on Wednesday, which was posted on the Thanh Niên Công Giáo blog. [Source: Global Post, January 9, 2013 ***]

"The activists were convicted under Vietnam's Penal Code Article 79, targeting those "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration." Those convicted under Article 79 can be subject to penalties as harsh as life imprisonment or capital punishment. The fourteen convicted have been held since 2011 on charges of association with Viet Tan, the Vietnamese Reform party — a group which Vietnam officially considers to be "terrorist." For its part, Viet Tan wrote in a press release today that "by persecuting these individuals for their peaceful expression and political advocacy, the Hanoi regime has shown once again its fear of civil society." The group also claims that some supporters of the convicted were attacked by police and detained while attempting to gather outside the trial. ***

"Human Rights Watch called for the immediate release of the 14 activists, and doubled down on their support for prominent blogger Le Quoc Quan, who was arrested in late December. "To misconstrue the activities of the activists as trying to overthrow the government is baseless – they have been imprisoned only for exercising their right to freedom of expression," said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Viet Nam in a press release. ***

"Vietnam appears to be in the midst of a crack-down on dissident bloggers, a new development that has many Vietnamese activists worried. "What we are seeing is an effort to control and constrain an increasingly restive citizenry that is empowered by internet delivered information," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The way this is happening is the authorities are systematically targeting and persecuting those who speak out loudly, who have institutional backing in Vietnam or overseas, and those who prove to be popular purveyors of on-line news that raises sensitive issues. " Human Rights Watch states that at least 31 dissidents and activists were sentenced to prison in Vietnam during the first nine months of 2012 "for exercising their rights to freedom of speech and freedom or organization enshrined in the Vietnam Constitution." ***

Vietnam Bloggers Get 10- and 12-Year Prison Sentences

In September 2012, Associated Press reported: "Vietnam issued jail sentences ranging from four to 12 years on Monday to three bloggers who wrote about human rights abuses, corruption and foreign policy, intensifying a crackdown on its citizens' use of Internet to criticize the government. The cases are particularly high-profile examples of the Communist government's attempts to stifle challenges to its authority on the Internet. The defendants, two men and one woman, are founding members of the "Free Journalists Club", a group of citizen journalists who posted their work on the Internet. They were found guilty of spreading "propaganda against the state." [Source: AP, September 24, 2012 ~~]

"Nguyen Van Hai, who has written under the pen name Dieu Cay or "Tobacco Pipe," got 12 years, Ta Phong Tan received 10 and Phan Thanh Hai got four years, according to defense lawyer Ha Huy Son. The trial in Ho Chi Minh City lasted less than 6 hours. The country regularly convicts dissidents, but sentences have generally been around 5 years. ~~

The United States quickly criticized the sentences. Obama mentioned Nguyen Van Hai's case in a May 2012 speech that called for greater freedom for media around the world. "The government's treatment of Dieu Cay appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to freedom of expression and due process," it said in a statement. ~~

Nguyen Van Hai criticized the government for its handling of tensions with neighboring China over disputed islands in the South China Sea. Tan, a former police officer, wrote a blog called "Justice and Truth" that criticized police abuse of power. Her mother self-immolated in protest of the case against her in late July. International rights groups have condemned the trial and called for the release of the defendants. "Vietnam's arbitrary use of vaguely worded national security laws to imprison critics of the government means bloggers are bearing the brunt of this assault on freedom of expression," Brad Adams, Asia director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement last week. ~~

Vietnamese Blogger Prevented from Traveling to U.S. to Pick up Human Rights Award

In December 2012, Associated Press reported: "Vietnamese authorities stopped a blogger from flying to the United States to pick up a human rights award on behalf of his father and sister, triggering criticism from the US embassy. Huynh Trong Hieu said that police detained him at Ho Chi Minh airport on Sunday night as he was checking in. They questioned him for two hours and took his passport, which had a valid American visa. He was then released. "I was prepared for the fact that they would ban me from leaving the country as they had prevented many people who dared to promote democracy and human rights in Vietnam," Hieu said by telephone. "By banning those people from leaving the country, the government wants to give a warning to others that they have the authority to decide the fate of all its citizens." [Source: Associated Press, December 19, 2012 |=|]

"Hieu was flying to the United States to receive a Hellman-Hammett award from Human Rights Watch on behalf of his father Huynh Ngoc Tuan and sister Huynh Thuc Vy, who are both prominent bloggers. Each year, the group gives cash grants to selected writers for their commitment to free expression in the face of government persecution. Hieu said he was traveling on behalf of his father and sister because they both knew they wouldn't be allowed to leave. |=|

"We are troubled by the intervention of Vietnamese authorities to prevent Huynh Trong Hieu from traveling to the United States," the embassy said in a statement. "We urge the Vietnamese government to lift travel restrictions on Mr. Hieu and take steps to allow his family and all Vietnamese to peacefully express their views without fear of retribution." |=|

Blogger Detained for Speaking Out on Bauxite Mine Project

In September 2009, AFP reported: "Vietnam's detention of three online writers has been "intentionally exaggerated and distorted," the foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman has said.

The three were detained "for investigation on alleged wrongdoings against national security of Vietnam," Nguyen Phuong Nga said in comments posted on the ministry's website. One of those held, Bui Thanh Hieu, 37, who blogs under the name Nguoi Buon Gio (Wind Trader), told AFP that he was released after more than one week in custody. Another detainee, Pham Doan Trang, a journalist for prominent news website VietnamNet, has also been released, a diplomatic source said. [Source: AFP, September 13, 2009 >+<]

"The foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman confirmed the two had been freed but said Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who blogged under the name "Me Nam", was still under detention for further investigation. "The detention of the three people by the Public Security Agency is consistent with the Vietnamese laws," Nga said. "Regrettably, some organizations and individuals have intentionally exaggerated and distorted this issue with ill intention." >+<

"Quynh had written about the sensitive topic of Vietnam-China relations, said her mother, who last week tearfully pleaded for her release. She had blogged about a controversial bauxite mining project in the Central Highlands and also about two disputed South China Sea archipelagos, the Paracels and Spratleys, her mother said. The bauxite project triggered a rare public outcry, partly over security concerns because a Chinese company has been granted a major contract there. Quynh's mother said that on July 20 her daughter wore a T-shirt calling for the cancellation of the bauxite project and announcing Vietnamese sovereignty over the archipelagos. Quynh had gone "a step further" than blogging by attempting to produce more of the T-shirts with the two other online writers, said a foreign diplomat who asked not to be named. >+<

Three Prominent Bloggers Arrested in Vietnam in Less than a Month

June 2013, Associated Press reported: Vietnamese police have arrested a blogger accused of posting "erroneous and slanderous" information about the communist government, state media reported Monday. The blogger is the third locked up in less than a month in an intensifying crackdown against dissent. Dinh Nhat Uy was taken into police custody in southern Long An province on Saturday, the state-run Thanh Nien newspaper reported. He is accused of "abusing democratic freedoms," an offense punishable by up to seven years in prison. Uy was found to have authored and posted on his blog "erroneous and slanderous" articles and photos of the government, the newspaper said. The 30-year-old is the brother of Dinh Nguyen Kha, a student who was sentenced last month to eight years in jail for spreading propaganda against the state. [Source: Associated Press, June 16, 2013 */*]

Two well-known bloggers have been arrested over the past three weeks on the same charges. So far this year, 46 bloggers or democracy activists have been convicted and imprisoned, more than the number of people locked up for violating national security laws in the whole of 2012. Critics accuse the government of using the security laws to silence dissent. Hanoi has said no one has been convicted of peacefully expressing their views, and only lawbreakers are put behind bars. Foreign governments, led by the United States, and international rights groups have criticized the crackdown and called for the activists' release. */*

Two week earlier, Associated Press reported: “Vietnamese police have arrested one of the country's best known bloggers for posting criticism of the communist government, the latest in an intensified crackdown against dissent in the one-party, authoritarian state. Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that police arrested Truong Duy Nhat, 49, at his home in central Danang City on and that he was flown with a police escort to the capital Hanoi for an investigation. He was accused of violating Article 258 of the Penal Code for "abusing democratic freedoms," an offense that carries up to seven years in prison. Nhat was a reporter at a state-run newspaper before quitting more than two years ago to focus on his blog. His posts have often criticized the government, including one calling for the prime minister and the Communist Party chief to resign. He said in 2010 that he was quitting as a reporter "to write about things that I want to write." [Source: Associated Press, May 27, 2013]

Another well-known blogger Pham Viet Dao was arrested for posting criticism of the communist government.Chris Brummitt of Associated Press wrote: The arrest of Pham Viet Dao, 61, indicates the level of concern in the Communist Party over the threat posed by Internet activism. Up until a few years ago, the party had a monopoly on information in the country. Now, scores of blogs and Facebook accounts report gleefully on its failings and internal feuding, reaching millions of people and helping spread anger at its long rule. [Source: Chris Brummitt, Associated Press June 14, 2013 <<<]

“Dao was arrested from his home in Hanoi for the offense of "abusing democratic freedoms," the Ministry of Public Security said on its website. That violation of Article 258 of the Penal Code carries up to seven years in prison. Dao, a former government official and member of the Vietnam Writers Association, ran a website where he had written posts critical of Vietnamese leaders. The site was not available after the arrest, apparently blocked by the government. <<<

In a speech Dao gave to a seminar on the media last year, Dao said social media in Vietnam was "making up for the shortcomings and handicapped official media in the country," which only portrayed a "smooth and perfect society in an artificial way." "Fortunately, with the boom of Internet, many individuals and bloggers have become journalists," he said, according to a text of his speech posted on another dissident blog Friday. Nguyen Quang A, an outspoken economist, said the arrest of Dao was attempt by the government to get everyone to "shut up your mouth" and a reflection of its weakness. "Who will be next?" he asked. "When somebody is weak and wants to appear to be strong, he does things like this." >>>

Vietnam Announces Big Fines for Social Media 'Propaganda'

In November 2013, Reuters reported: “Vietnam will hand out fines of 100 million dong ($4,740) to anyone criticizing the government on social media, under a new law, the latest measure in a widening crackdown on dissent by the country's communist rulers. Comments that did not constitute criminal offences would trigger fines if held to be "propaganda against the state", or spreading "reactionary ideology", according to the law signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. [Source: Reuters, November 27, 2013]

The new decree is vaguely worded and did not say what comments amounted to a criminal offence, which can be punished with prison, or an "administrative violation" that rates a fine. A Vietnamese Facebook user who campaigned online for the release of his brother jailed for criticizing the government fell afoul of the same law and was last month sentenced to 15 months of house arrest.

The law would anger social media users, said Nguyen Lan Thang, a well-known Vietnamese Internet activist, who questioned the need for it. "How could the government be destroyed by comments and the sharing of information on personal social media?" Thang said.The decree also said anyone posting online a map of Vietnam inconsistent with the country's sovereignty claims faced fines. The issue is hugely sensitive in Vietnam, where China's perceived encroachment of territory generates the kind of quiet anger experts say Vietnam's government wants to rein in.

Earlier in 2013 Vietnam introduced a sweeping new Internet law that bans bloggers and social media users from sharing news stories online, in a move seen as a further crackdown on online freedom.

Vietnamese Activist on Trial for Facebook Posts

In October 2013, AFP reported: “A Vietnamese activist received a 15 month suspended prison sentence Tuesday for "abusing democratic freedoms" through his Facebook posts -- part of an escalating crackdown on dissent by the communist regime. Dinh Nhat Uy, 30, was convicted at the end of a one-day trial in the southern province of Long An on charges related to an Internet campaign against his brother's imprisonment for spreading anti-government propaganda, his lawyer said. Uy's case was apparently the first time a Vietnamese activist has gone on trial only for comments made on social media. [Source: AFP, October 29, 2013]

"Uy was given a 15 month suspended sentence," his lawyer Ha Huy Son told AFP, adding that he would have to serve an additional year of house arrest after completing his probation. In Vietnam, convicts serving suspended sentences are effectively placed under house arrest, with severe restrictions on their movements and a requirement to check in regularly with police. "I told the court that Uy was innocent, that the charges against him were not objective," he said, adding that he had called for Uy's immediate release. "He is the victim of an injustice," he added.

Uy was sentenced for violations of article 258 of the penal code, which covers "abusing democratic freedoms against the interests of the state". According to Uy's indictment -- a copy of which was posted online on the banned but popular blog Dan Lam Bao -- he was charged solely for Facebook postings. Usually charges for dissidents and activists relate to blog postings. In June Uy's brother Dinh Nguyen Kha, a computer technician, was sentenced to eight years in prison -- reduced to four years on appeal -- for anti-government propaganda. His co-defendant, Nguyen Phuong Uyen, was sentenced to six years in jail but freed on appeal after widespread public disapproval over the harsh sentence for the 21-year-old, who was shown hugging a teddy bear in photographs posted online.

After his brother's trial Uy began campaigning online for his release. The indictment said Uy "posted bad and false information about the state, organisations and individuals". "Those above-mentioned images and articles were seen and read by many people. Many people shared, pressed 'like', and gave comments, of which many comments smeared and insulted the state, organisations and citizens," it added.

Google Cites Cyberattacks in Vietnam

In April 2010, Ben Stocking of Associated Press wrote: " Google Inc. accused Vietnam yesterday of stifling political dissent with cyberattacks, the latest complaint by the Internet giant against a communist regime following a public dispute with China over online censorship. Like China, Vietnam has said it reserves the right to take "appropriate action’’ against websites it deems harmful to national security. The cyberattacks targeted "potentially tens of thousands,’’ a posting on Google’s online security blog said. It said it was drawing attention to the Vietnam attacks because they underscored the need for the international community "to take cybersecurity seriously to help keep free opinion flowing.’’ [Source: Ben Stocking, Associated Press, April 1, 2010 \:\]

"Google apparently stumbled onto a scheme targeting Vietnamese-speaking Internet users around the world while investigating the surveillance of e-mail accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists, one analyst suggested. The attackers appear to have targeted specific websites and duped users into downloading malware programs, said Nart Villeneuve from The Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto. That may have allowed the infiltration and surveillance of activists, he said. "This kind of stuff happens all the time in China,’’ said Villeneuve. "It has a chilling effect. It silences people.’’ \:\

"Google engineer Neel Mehta wrote in the posting, "these attacks have tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam.’’ The mining project involving a subsidiary of Chinese state-run aluminum company Chinalco is planned for Vietnam’s Central Highlands and has attracted strong opposition. Foes fear the mine would cause major environmental problems and lead to Chinese workers flooding into the strategically sensitive region. The computer security firm McAfee, which has investigated the malware, also discussed the attacks in a blog posting Tuesday. "We believe that the perpetrators may have political motivations and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,’’ wrote George Kurtz, McAfee’s chief technology officer. In the fall of 2009, the government detained several bloggers who criticized the bauxite mine, and in December, a website that had drawn millions of visitors opposed to the mine, was hacked. The malware apparently began circulating at about that time, according the McAfee blog. \:\

A few days later the BBC reported: "Vietnam has rejected accusations made by Google and McAfee that malicious software had been used to spy on tens of thousands of Vietnamese web users. McAfee said the perpetrators of the attacks "may have some allegiance" to the country's government. But Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said the accusations were "groundless". "We have on many occasions clearly expounded our view on issues relating to access to, and use of, information and information technology, including the internet," she told reporters. "Vietnam law puts in place specific regulations against computer virus and malware, as well as on information security and confidentiality." [Source: BBC, April 6, 2010 *-*]

Neel Mehta of Google's security team said last month that the spy software had "infected the computers of potentially tens of thousands of users" around the world. He said the malware installed itself when users downloaded a popular piece of software needed to type Vietnamese characters. The infected computers were then used to spy on the users or to block other sites "containing messages of political dissent", he said. Mr Mehta said the attacks were targeted at opponents of bauxite mining in Vietnam, which has attracted criticism over potential environmental damage. George Kurtz, chief technology officer and executive vice president of McAfee, said the action appeared to be "a politically motivated attack", because of the individuals and organizations affected. "We believe that the perpetrators may have political motivations and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," he said. *-*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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