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Vietnam's parliament votes to approve a cyber security law on June 12, 2018. Vietnamese lawmakers on June 12 approved a sweeping cyber security law which could compel foreign websites to remove critical posts, according to reports. (AFP/Vietnam News Agency)

New cybersecurity law threatens press freedom in Vietnam

June 12, 2018 10:43 AM ET

Bangkok, June 12, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned a new cybersecurity law that was passed today by Vietnam's National Assembly as a clear threat to press freedom and called on the Vietnamese government immediately to repeal it.

The legislation, which goes into effect January 1, 2019, will severely restrict online freedoms and gives broad powers to government authorities to surveil the internet, including the ability to force international technology companies with operations in the country to reveal their users' personal information and censor online information on demand, according to news reports said.

The law's vague and broad provisions ban any online posts deemed as "opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," or which "[offend] the nation, the national flag, the national anthem, great people, leaders, notable people and national heroes," according to the reports. The same sources state that the law's Article 8 prohibits the use of the internet to "distort history, deny revolutionary achievements or undermine national solidarity."

The law also prohibits disseminating online "incorrect information which causes confusion among people, damages socio-economic activities [or] creates difficulties for authorities and those performing their duty," according to reports.

After January 1, 2019, companies will have 24 hours to remove content that the Information and Communications Ministry or the Public Security Ministry find to be in violation of the new law, news reports state.

It was not immediately clear what penalties would be administered for violations of the law.

"Vietnam's new cybersecurity law represents a grave danger to journalists and bloggers who work online and should be promptly repealed," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's Southeast Asia representative. "We expect international technology companies to use their best efforts to uphold their stated commitment to a free and open internet and user privacy and to resist any attempts to undermine those commitments."

Vo Trong Viet, chairperson of the National Assembly's Committee on Defense and Security, told lawmakers before the vote that the law was "extremely necessary to defend the interests of the people and national security," The Associated Press reported.

The law will expand on existing restrictions on online activities outlined in Decree 72, which in 2013 imposed bans on posting and sharing online any information or news that "harms national security" or "opposes the state," Reuters reported at the time.

All mainstream media is state-controlled in Vietnam, but independent journalists and bloggers have thrived in anonymous online spaces provided by foreign-hosted platforms like Facebook. On Sunday, protesters took to the streets in a number of Vietnamese cities to protest the cybersecurity bill as well as controversial special economic zone legislation, news reports said.

At least 10 journalists were held behind bars in Vietnam when CPJ conducted its annual census of jailed journalists worldwide in December 2017. All ten were jailed on anti-state charges related to their journalism, CPJ research shows.

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