Decree targets online freedoms in Vietnam

Bangkok, July 22, 2013–A new decree aimed at regulating Internet-related information and services in Vietnam represents a significant new danger to online journalists and bloggers, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The decree was signed into law on July 15 and will be implemented on September 1, according to news reports.

“The restrictions outlined in this new decree aim to make global Internet companies like Google, Facebook, and others complicit in Vietnam’s escalating crackdown on Internet freedoms,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “We call on Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s government to scrap this outrageous law and to immediately halt its campaign against online journalists and bloggers.”

The decree applies to both local and foreign companies that provide Internet services or information inside the country, and will require the companies to reveal the identities of users who violate numerous vague prohibitions against certain speech in Vietnamese law, news reports said. It also severely restricts the types of content that foreign companies are allowed to host on their Vietnam-related websites and social media platforms, the reports said.

According to a Radio Free Asia report, the decree prohibits using the Internet to “go against the state of the socialist republic of Vietnam, jeopardize national security or social order, damage national unity, issue war propaganda, carry out acts of terrorism, create hatred between ethnic groups … or reveal state secrets, including those related to the military, security, and foreign affairs.”

Many pseudonymous and anonymous bloggers in Vietnam use Facebook and other foreign-hosted social media services to conceal their true identities, CPJ research shows. It was not clear what penalties would be imposed for non-compliance with the decree’s measures.

The final version dropped requirements contained in earlier versions that would have required foreign technology and Internet-related companies to establish data centers and local representative offices in Vietnam. It was not immediately clear why the final version had dropped these requirements.

All but one of the 14 reporters jailed at the time of CPJ’s 2012 prison census published blogs or worked predominantly online. The campaign of repression against independent bloggers has intensified this year through harsh prison sentences, new arrests, and other forms of harassment.