Amnesty vows to tackle Vietnam govt’s internet free speech crackdown

The Vietnamese government has come under fire from activists for cracking down on free speech by enacting laws criminalising dissenting views on the internet.

According to a report published by the OpenNet Initiative, a collaboration between Cambridge, Harvard, Oxford and Toronto universities to monitor internet censorship, the legislation makes it a crime to use the internet “to oppose the state or to destabilise Vietnam’s security, economy or social order”. Penalties for lawbreakers include imprisonment.

Internet service providers have also been required to filter out politically sensitive content on human rights or democracy and tools to bypass such content filters have been banned.

Internet cafes, where most Vietnamese web-users access the internet, have also been made responsible for inspecting users’ activities and informing the authorities of violations.

Derek Bambauer, research fellow at the Berkman Centre for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, said: “From controls in cybercafes to vague but harsh laws, Vietnam employs a multipronged approach to keeping citizens away from material that might threaten the state’s one-party political system.”

Amnesty International also published a report last month (October), highlighting what it describes as “a climate of fear” in Vietnam. “People in Vietnam can be thrown in jail for the click of a mouse. Those who stand up for free speech are publicly harassed and persecuted,” states an Amnesty spokesperson.

The report highlights the case of Nguyen Vu Binh, a 37-year-old journalist who was arrested in September 2002 for passing information through the internet to overseas Vietnamese groups.

At his trial in December 2003, Nguyen was charged with ‘spying’ under Article 80 of the Vietnam Criminal Code and was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment plus three years’ house-arrest on release. He is currently detained at Ba Sao prison camp in northern Vietnam.

Truong Quoc Huy, 25, was also arrested in October 2005 with two others after chatting on a democracy and human rights website and held incommunicado for nine months before being released.

On 18 August this year, Truong was rearrested in an internet cafe in Ho Chi Minh City, where he had logged on to a chatroom. His whereabouts remains unknown and no charges against him have been made public.

However, Amnesty argues that a growing network of activists is defying government controls and that a fledgling democracy movement is growing online.