Vietnamese leader urged to roll back online restrictions

January 16, 2009 2:35 PM ET

January 16, 2009
 
President Nguyen Minh Triet
Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Office of the State
1 Bach Thao
Hanoi
, Vietnam

 
Via facsimile: +84 4 823-1872

 
Dear President Triet,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by new online content restrictions that appear to be part of a stepped-up official campaign to suppress and intimidate reporters, editors, and commentators.

In late December, your government issued a directive banning bloggers from posting material perceived as opposing the state, undermining national security, or divulging state secrets. The directive also required domestic Internet service providers to begin maintaining databases on individual blogs and censoring content that authorities consider sensitive.

The new restrictions effectively give government officials greater authority to crack down on the growing number of Vietnamese-language Web sites, many of which are critical of your government's policies and provide an important counterpoint to the news and views disseminated by your country's tightly controlled state media.

Statements by public officials have raised additional concerns that your government will seek assistance from international blog hosting sites to regulate content. More than 20 million Vietnamese now regularly use the Internet--about a quarter of the population according to your government's statistics.

Another indicator of your government's attempt to tighten controls on all media came on January 2, when state officials ordered the dismissals of two senior newspaper journalists: Nguyen Cong Khe, editor of Thanh Nien, and Le Hoang, editor of Tuoi Tre.

The dismissals came just months after reporters for their respective publications were found guilty by a Vietnamese court last year of "abusing democratic freedoms" in connection with their reporting on a major government corruption scandal in 2006. Both publications published critical opinion pieces about the reporters' arrests and detention.

CPJ discussions with Vietnamese sources and activist exile groups have led us to believe that Nguyen Cong Khe's and Thanh Nien's dismissals are linked to their editorial decisions to run those critical opinion pieces. A number of other journalists and editors involved in the production of similarly critical commentaries about the journalists' arrests had their press credentials revoked last year by state authorities.

While Article 69 of your country's constitution broadly protects press freedom and freedom of expression, your government has continued to use criminal and national security laws to arbitrarily stifle these essential freedoms. Your government has also maintained, even before the most recent regulations, some of the strictest Internet controls in Asia

That was clear when a Vietnamese court last September convicted the prominent and often critical blogger Nguyen Van Hai, also known as Dieu Cay, to 30 months in prison on what many, including CPJ, viewed as trumped-up charges of tax evasion. We believe he was really jailed for his critical writing about competing Chinese and Vietnamese claims to nearby island chains.

Your country's constitution promotes and protects press freedom and freedom of expression. In view of these constitutional protections, we call on you to reverse recent policies aimed at censoring the Internet, to cease your government's campaign of intimidation against the press, and to release all journalists and bloggers now imprisoned for their writings.

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your reply.

 

Joel Simon
Executive Director

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