Vietnam cracks down on bloggers and online journalists

New York, September 3, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns the recent harassment and arrests of online journalists and political bloggers in Vietnam. The mounting crackdown comes as Web-based journalists and bloggers’ independent reporting challenges the tightly censored state-run media’s traditional monopoly on local news and opinion.    

On August 28, police arrested journalist Pham Doan Trang, a reporter with the popular online news site VietnamNet. Trang had recently reported on sensitive land disputes between China and Vietnam, a story tightly controlled in the state-run media. Access to several of Tuan’s articles on that topic and others were blocked after her arrest, The Associated Press reported.

According to the Free Journalists Network of Vietnam (FJNV), an independent press freedom group, Trang also had shared sensitive information with bloggers and other journalists about a Chinese advisor for economic and trade issues who called on his Vietnamese counterparts to discipline certain local newspapers and journalists.Growing commercial and diplomatic ties with China are particularly sensitive in Vietnam, given the two neighboring countries’ often antagonistic history.

On August 27, police arrested political blogger Bui Thanh Hieu, also known by his blogger name, Nguoi Buon Gio, which means “Wind Trader.” In recent entries, the 37-year-old blogger wrote critically about competing territorial claims with China, including over the long-contested Paracel and Spratly Islands, as well as the Vietnamese government’s handling of land disputes with the Roman Catholic Church. The FJNV said police searched Hieu’s house after his arrest and confiscated two of his computers and other personal belongings. As of Wednesday, Hieu’s family did not know his exact whereabouts, according to the FJNV.

CPJ is also investigating unconfirmed reports that Vietnam TV journalist Tran Uy and a political blogger who goes by the name of “Sphinx” have been arrested in the crackdown.

“We call on Vietnamese authorities to unconditionally and immediately release Pham Doan Trang and Bui Thanh Hieu,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Vietnam is already one of the world’s worst violators of Internet freedom, and recent actions only underscore that reputation.”  

Also, on August 25, newspaper reporter Truong Huy San, better known by his penname Huy Duc, was dismissed from the government-run Saigon Tiep Thi (Saigon Marketing) daily newspaper for posting criticism of the former Soviet Union’s crimes on his blog Osin.

The Vietnamese government created a new agency, known as the Administration Agency for Radio, Television, and Electronics Information, tasked with monitoring the Internet and bloggers in October 2008. In recent months, authorities have blocked local access to Yahoo 360°, a platform based in Singapore popular with many Vietnamese bloggers, according to CPJ sources. Many bloggers have since moved their blogs to WordPress or social networking sites such as Facebook and Multiply.