Ministry of Information and Communications, Decree 97/2008/N-CP, “Regarding the management, provision and use of Internet services and electronic information on the internet,” issued August 28, 2008, http://mic.gov.vn/VBQPPL/vn/documentdetail/8769/index.mic.
Brannon Cullum, “Spotlighting Digital Activism in Vietnam,” Movements.org, November 2, 2010, http://www.movements.org/blog/entry/spolighting-digital-activism-in-vietnam/.
“Vietnam Facebook Statistics,” Socialbakers, http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/vietnam, accessed February 24, 2011.
Huyen Chip. “Vietnam: State of Social Media One Year After Facebook Block”, Global Voices, January 25, 2011, http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/01/25/vietnam-state-of-social-media-one-year-after-facebook-block/.
James Hookway, “In Vietnam, State ‘Friends’ You,” Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703305004575503561540612900.html.
“2010: What Will the Mobile Communication Market Be Like” Hanoimoi Online, March 5, 2010, http://www.hanoimoi.com.vn/newsdetail/Kinh_te/312116/nam-2010-thi-truong-thong-tin-di-dong-se-ra-sao.htm (in Vietnamese); “Mobile Subscribers Touch 110 Million in 2009,” Viet Nam Business News.
VIETNAM FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net and many find that they lack the political ties or economic clout to do so. Similarly, there is a concentration of internet-exchange providers (IXPs), which serve as gateways to the international internet. Currently there are seven IXPs, five of which are state- or militaryowned.The Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPT), the MPS, and the Ministry of Culture, Sport, and Tourism (MCST) regulate the management, provision, and usage of internet services. On paper, the MCST is charged with regulating sexual or violent content, while the MPS oversees measures related to politically sensitive content. In practice, however, the ruling VCP issues guidelines to all regulatory bodies as it deems appropriate and in a largely nontransparent manner. The Vietnam Internet Network Information Center (VNNIC), run by the MPT, manages and allocates internet resources such as domain names.LIMITS ON CONTENT While the Vietnamese government has fewer resources to devote to online content control than its counterpart in China, the authorities have nonetheless established an effective and increasingly sophisticated content-filtering system. Censorship of online content is implemented by ISPs rather than at the backbone level or the international gateway. There is no real-time filtering based on keywords or using deep-packet inspection. Instead, specific URLs are identified in advance as targets for censorship and placed on blacklists; ISPs are legally required to block these URLs. In some instances, when users attempt to access a censored website, a “blocked page” notification will appear, informing them that the page has been deliberately blocked rather than rendered unavailable by a technical failure.
However, users sometimes receive a vague error message indicating simply that the browser was unable to locate the server for that website.
Although the censorship system is ostensibly aimed at limiting access to sexually explicit content, in practice it primarily targets sites deemed threatening to the VCP’s monopoly on political power, such as those related to Vietnamese political dissidents, human rights, and democracy. Websites on religious freedom, Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, and the Cao Dai religious group are blocked to a lesser but still significant degree.20 The Vietnamese authorities largely focus their censorship efforts on Vietnameselanguage content, blocking English-language sites less often. For example, while the The five are VNPT, Viettel, EVN Telecom, Hanoi Telecom, and VTC.
Vietnam Internet Network Information Center, “Regulation on Registrar of Domain Name Dot Vn,” March 5, 2007, http://www.vnnic.vn/english/5-6-300-0-2-01-20071115.htm.
“Vietnamese Government Expands Internet Censorship to Block Catholic Websites,” Catholic News Agency, August 6, 2009, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vietnamese_government_expands_internet_censorship_to_block_catholic_websit es/.
VIETNAM FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net websites of the New York Times, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Freedom House, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch are accessible, those of overseas Vietnamese organizations that are critical of the government—such as talawas.org, danluan.org, or danchimviet.com—are blocked. The websites of the Vietnamese-language services of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia and Voice of America outlets are also sporadically blocked.
In recent years, the online filtering apparatus has expanded. Both the socialnetworking website Facebook and content related to border disputes between China and Vietnam, for example, were freely available several years ago but were restricted as of the end of 2010. Because of the unpredictable and nontransparent way in which topics become forbidden, it is difficult for users to know where exactly the “red lines” lie. As a result, many media workers and online writers practice self-censorship or publish under pseudonyms.
One common form of self-censorship is for bloggers to disable the readers’ comment option on their writings. This acts as a precautionary measure to prevent discussion by commentators from taking a more confrontational tone than what was intended by the original posting.
Online media outlets and internet portals are state owned and therefore subject to censorship by the VCP. The party’s Department for Culture and Ideology and the MPS regularly instruct online newspapers or portals to remove content they perceive as critical of the government. Editors and journalists who post such content risk disciplinary warnings, job loss, or even imprisonment. In October 2008, the MIC announced the creation of the Administrative Agency for Radio, Television, and Electronic Information. Among other duties, the agency was tasked with regulating online content, including by drafting guidelines for blogs, though the full extent of its activities remained unclear as of the end of 2010.21 In December 2008, the MIC announced a directive requiring blogging platforms to remove “harmful” content, report to the government every six months, and provide information about individual bloggers upon request.22 This has generally resulted in an increase in the censorship of content that is critical of the VCP, but the impact has been less significant on the many blogs hosted outside the country. In late 2008, the deputy minister of information and communications reportedly said he would contact international companies such as Google and Yahoo! to request cooperation on censorship. However, as of 2010 there were no indications that these companies were assisting the Vietnamese authorities, for instance by self-censoring search results, as is done in China. Geoffrey Cain, “Bloggers the New Rebels in Vietnam,” SFGate.com, December 14, 2008, http://articles.sfgate.com/200812-14/news/17131885_1_bloggers-communist-party-vietnam; Xuan Linh, “Watchdog to Regulate Blogs in Vietnam,” VietnamNet Bridge, October 3, 2008, http://english.vietnamnet.vn/politics/2008/10/806781/.
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, ed., “Vietnam,” in Freedom of the Press 2009 (New York: Freedom House, 2009), http://www.freedomhouse.org/template.cfmpage=251&year=2009.
Ann Binlot, “Vietnam’s Bloggers Face Government Crackdown,” Time, December 30, 2008, http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1869130,00.html.
VIETNAM FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net There is no avenue for managers of blocked websites to appeal censorship decisions.
There have been no reports of restrictions placed on content transmitted via e-mail or mobile-phone text messages.
Despite the government restrictions, Vietnam’s internet is vibrant and offers a diversity of content in the Vietnamese language, though most of it is nonpolitical. According to the MIC, there were 1.1 million blogs in Vietnam as of October 2008.24 In recent years, Yahoo! 360 emerged as an extremely popular platform for the blogging community, and for individual bloggers writing on entertainment, fashion, or politics to gain a large number of followers. At the height of its popularity, the application reportedly had 15 million Vietnamese users, including 2 million who updated their pages daily.25 However, as the program was not particularly popular outside Vietnam, in mid-2009 Yahoo! terminated the service. Since then, Vietnam’s blogging community has become much more dispersed, with some bloggers migrating to Blogger.com or WordPress.com, others to Yahoo!’s 360Plus, and especially to Facebook and Multiply. Between May 2009 and November 2009, shortly before the government restricted access to Facebook, the number of Facebook users from Vietnam reportedly increased from 72,000 to one million.Although most blogs address personal or nonpolitical topics, citizen journalism has emerged as an important phenomenon and a source of information for many Vietnamese, particularly given the VCP’s tight control over traditional media. Websites such as Vietnam Net and Vietnam News discuss subjects like corruption, social justice, and the country’s political situation. According to one study, citizen journalists in recent years have exposed stories such as blunders by the Ministry of Construction surrounding a bridge collapse, corruption in transportation projects funded by Japanese foreign aid, and police brutality against farmers protesting against land grabs.27 Blogs and online writings have also played a critical role in mobilizing public opinion and even “real life” protests over environmental concerns related to mining projects in the Central Highlands, and disputes with China over the Paracel and Spratly Islands. In early 2009, a petition was circulated calling on the authorities to reconsider plans to mine the mineral bauxite in cooperation with a Chinese state-owned company. The petition garnered thousands of signatures. The campaign organizers then launched a website called Bauxite Vietnam that attracted millions of hits, although it is hosted on a server in France.28 Some bloggers and activists also used the internet to distribute t-shirts criticizing the bauxite policy and China’s claims to the disputed Linh, “Watchdog to Regulate Blogs in Vietnam.” Aryeh Sternberg, “Vietnam Online: Then and Now,” iMedia Connection, January 5, 2010, http://www.imediaconnection.com/content/25480.asp.
Viet Tan, “Vietnam’s Blogger Movement: A Virtual Civil Society in the Midst of Government Repression,” March 30, 2009, http://www.viettan.org/spip.phparticle8421.
Viet Tan, “Denial of Service: Cyberattacks by the Vietnamese Government,” April 27, 2010, http://www.viettan.org/spip.phparticle9749. The Bauxite Vietnam website is located at http://www.bauxitevietnam.info.
VIETNAM FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net islands.29 Methods to circumvent censorship, such as the use of proxy servers, are relatively well-known among the young and technology-savvy internet users in Vietnam, with some searchable via Google.
VIOLATIONS OF USER RIGHTS The constitution affirms the right to freedom of expression, but media are strictly controlled by the VCP in practice. Legislation including internet-related decrees, the penal code, the Publishing Law, and the State Secrets Protection Ordinance restrict free expression, and have been used to imprison journalists and bloggers. The judiciary is not independent, and many trials related to free expression last only a few hours. When detaining bloggers and online activists, police routinely fail to follow Vietnamese legal provisions, arresting individuals without a warrant, or retaining them in custody beyond the maximum period allowed by law. In an effort to expand traditional media controls to the blogosphere, the MIC issued Circular 7 in December 2008. It requires blogs to address only strictly personal information, and refrain from political or social commentary. It also bars internet users from disseminating press articles, literary works, or other publications that are prohibited by the Press Law.In recent years, the Vietnamese authorities have embarked on several crackdowns against bloggers and online writers, subjecting them to extended interrogations, imprisonment, and in some instances physical abuse.31 In one of the first cases of a prominent blogger being imprisoned, Dieu Cay, a vocal critic of the government’s human rights record and an advocate for Vietnamese sovereignty over the Spratly Islands, was sentenced in late 2008 to 2.5 years in prison on tax evasion charges that most observers viewed as politically motivated.32 Other bloggers have been prosecuted and convicted for “subversion” or “attempting to overthrow the people’s government.” The authorities have also invoked Articles 79 and 88 of the penal code to imprison bloggers and online activists.In January 2010, a court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced four prodemocracy activists to a total of 33 years in prison for using the internet to report rights violations or disseminate pro-democracy views. Of the four, Le Cong Dinh and Le Thang Long each received 5 years, John Ruwitch, “Vietnam Bloggers Arrested Over China Shirt Protest,” Reuters, September 5, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE5840CY20090905.
Reporters Without Borders, “Internet Enemies: Vietnam,” http://en.rsf.org/internet-enemie-viet-nam,36694.html, accessed August 25, 2010.
“Vietnam’s Internet Crackdown,” CNN Video, June 18, 2010, http://edition.cnn.com/video/#/video/world/2010/06/18/stevens.vietnam.internet.crackdown.cnniref=allsearch.
Human Rights Watch, “Banned, Censored, Harassed and Jailed,” news release, October 11, 2009, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/10/11/banned-censored-harassed-and-jailed.
Reporters Without Borders, “Internet Enemies: Vietnam.” VIETNAM FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Nguyen Tien Trung received 7 years, and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc received 16 years.34 In late 2009, three other individuals were sentenced to prison for views expressed on the internet:
Pham Van Troi, a poet sentenced to four years; Vu Van Hung, a former teacher sentenced to three years; and Tran Duc Thach, a poet sentenced to three years.35 As of July 2010, Global Voices Online had compiled a list of 10 jailed online activists in Vietnam.In addition to imprisonment, bloggers and online activists have been subjected to physical attacks, job loss, termination of personal internet services, and travel restrictions.