Rights groups say Vietnam is holding over 30 bloggers and netizens for speaking out.
This picture taken on January 15, 2013 shows a man reading online news with his laptop at a coffee shop in downtown Hanoi. After harassment and prison failed to silence Vietnam’s dissident bloggers, the communist government started building an army of propaganda agents to infiltrate chatrooms and sing the regime’s praises. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH Nam
Blogs in Vietnam have become prime targets of government repression, with more than 30 bloggers and netizens behind bars amid a crackdown on online dissent that has intensified over the past three years, an advocacy group said in a report Wednesday.
The report by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organization the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) said the detentions were part of an “escalating assault” on freedom of expression.
The groups called on the one-party Communist state to stop criminalizing online expression, saying the blogosphere is vibrant and diversified with millions of blogs having sprung up despite government restrictions.
“Instead of engaging in the futile exercise of gagging the Internet, [Vietnam] should immediately end the practice of making speech a crime and overhaul its repressive legal framework to ensure respect and protection of the right to freedom of expression, regardless of medium,” FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen said in a statement on Wednesday.
Over the past two years, arrests of bloggers and netizens under charges of “national security” violations have intensified significantly, the report said.
The report counted 32 bloggers and netizens in prison at present, saying they were “detained, charged, and/or sentenced to prison terms for their peaceful online dissent or criticisms of government policies.”
Seventeen of them have been sentenced under the “draconian” Article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code, an offense that bars “anti-state propaganda.”
“Article 88 and other ‘national security’ provisions of the Criminal Code fly in the face of Vietnam’s obligations under international human rights law,” Belhassen said.
Climate of fear
Vietnamese authorities at all levels have routinely subjected bloggers and netizens to arbitrary detention, harassment, intimidation, assaults, and violations of fair trial rights, the report said.
Bloggers and their families live in a permanent climate of fear and are frequently subjected to physical attacks, often by state-hired local thugs or plain-clothed security agents, it said.
One blogger, 25-year-old Nguyen Hoang Vi, suffered a sexual assault by police after she was arrested for an “identity check” in December 2012 while at a park near the courthouse where the appeal trial of another blogger was taking place, according to the report.
“As Vietnam steps up censorship by new laws and regulations, it is also intensifying police repression, imprisonment, intimidation and even sexual assaults on young bloggers to frighten them into silence and self-censorship,” VCHR President Vo Van Ai said.
But he said this would not be enough to stop an emerging movement of online dissent.
“Through the Internet, a culture of protest is emerging in Vietnam,” he said, adding that those suffering under the crackdown are “patriots who are using new technologies to call for their people’s legitimate freedoms and rights.”
“Vietnam cannot suppress this movement simply by locking bloggers and netizens behind bars.”
New laws and policies
New legislation and policies restricting online dissent include an order by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung issued in September that targeted three dissident websites including the Danlambao citizen journalism website for criticizing the ruling Communist Party.
FIDH and VCHR said the order, “sanctions against information opposing the party and state,” took Vietnam’s crackdown on freedom of expression “to a new height.”
The groups also called a new draft Internet decree that Vietnam is considering “fatally flawed” and inconsistent with international human rights standards because it would require Internet users and providers to cooperate with the government in enforcing restrictions on prohibited acts of expression.