In May 2010, Lu Thi Thu Trang, an online activist associated with the pro-democracy movement Bloc 8406, was beaten by police in front of her five-year-old son, and then detained for interrogation.37 In June 2009, popular blogger Huy Duc was fired from his job with a state-owned newspaper after it came under government pressure over postings he had written condemning the Berlin Wall.38 In May 2010, provincial authorities terminated the telephone and internet-service connection at the home of Ha Si Phu, one of Vietnam’s best-known dissident bloggers, alleging that he had used his telephone line to transmit “antigovernment” information. Also in May 2010, police detained and interrogated two bloggers, Uyen Vu and Trang Dem, at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City, and barred them from traveling abroad for their honeymoon.39 In Oct 2010, blogger Le Nguyen Huong Tra (who uses the penname Do Long Girl) was detained on charges of “misusing democratic rights to violate the state’s and citizens’ interests,” after she reported about the family affairs of a high-ranking official.40 That same month, blogger Phan Thanh Hai (who uses the penname Anh Ba Sai Gon) was arrested on charges of distributing false information on his blog.41 The incidents occurred as part of a broader crackdown on free expression in the lead up to an important Communist Party Congress in January 2011.
The Vietnamese authorities employ both technology-based and “low-tech” methods for monitoring online communications. The former include monitoring web traffic and emails, especially of political activists, while the latter involve shadowing the movements of known online activists. Cybercafe owners are required to install special software to track Reporters Without Borders, “Court Sentences Four Netizens and Pro-Democracy Activists to a Total of 33 Years in Jail,” news release, January 20, 2010, http://en.rsf.org/vietnam-court-sentences-four-netizens-and-20-01-2010,36156.html.
Human Rights Watch, “Banned, Censored, Harassed, and Jailed,” August 4, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/08/04/banned-censored-harassed-and-jailed.
Threatened Voices, “Bloggers: Vietnam,” Global Voices Advocacy, http://threatened.globalvoicesonline.org/bloggers/vietnam, accessed August 26, 2010.
“Government Suppression of Bloggers and Websites,” VietCatholic News, May 27, 2010, http://www.vietcatholic.org/News/Clients/ReadArticle.aspxID=80607 (in Vietnamese).
Viet Tan, “Denial of Service: Cyberattacks by the Vietnamese Government.” Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Stop Cyber Attacks Against Online Critics,” news release, May 26, 2010, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/05/26/vietnam-stop-cyber-attacks-against-online-critics.
Vu Mai and Quoc Thang, “Blogger Co Gai Do Long Urgently Arrested,” VN Express, October 26, 2010, http://vnexpress.net/GL/Phap-luat/2010/10/3BA221C2/ (in Vietnamese).
“Another blogger arrested in Vietnam crackdown”, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), October 28, 2010, http://cpj.org/2010/10/another-blogger-arrested-in-vietnam-crackdown.php.
VIETNAM FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net and store information about their clients’ online activities.42 In addition, citizens are obliged to provide the details of their government-issued identification documents to register with their ISP when purchasing a home internet connection. In late 2009, the MIC announced that all prepaid mobile-phone subscribers would be required to register their details with the operator. Individuals are allowed to register only up to three numbers per carrier.43 The government argues that such measures are necessary to counter mass text-message advertising that plagues many Vietnamese phone users. However, the steps also facilitate surveillance, as service providers are required to share information about users with the government upon request. Nevertheless, there are no requirements for real-name registration when blogging or posting online comments, and many Vietnamese do so anonymously.
The intensified harassment of bloggers in 2009 and 2010 has coincided with systematic cyberattacks targeting individual blogs as well as websites run by other activists in Vietnam and abroad.44 Since September 2009, dozens of sites have been attacked, including those operated by Catholics who criticize government confiscation of Church property, forums featuring political discussions, and the website raising environmental concerns surrounding bauxite mining.45 The attackers infected computers with malicious software disguised as a popular keyboard program that allows Microsoft Windows to support the Vietnamese language. Once infected, computers became part of a “botnet” whose command-and-control servers were primarily accessed from internet protocol (IP) addresses inside Vietnam. The network of hijacked computers was then used to carry out the denialof-service attacks described above. Both McAfee, a major internet security firm, and Google reported on the sophisticated attacks, with the latter estimating that “potentially tens of thousands of computers” had been affected, most of which belonged to Vietnamese speakers.46 McAfee stated that “the perpetrators may have political motivations, and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”47 The Vietnamese authorities have not taken measures to find or punish the attackers. On the contrary, during a national conference on media held in May 2010, the MPS announced that it had “destroyed 300 ‘bad’ websites and blogs.” “Internet Censorship Tightening in Vietnam,” AsiaNews.it, June 22, 2010, http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Internetcensorship-tightening-in-Vietnam-18746.html.
Phong Quan, “Sim Card Registration Now Required in Vietnam,” Vietnam Talking Points, January 16, 2010, http://talk.onevietnam.org/sim-card-registration-now-required-in-vietnam/.
Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Stop Cyber Attacks Against Online Critics.” “Authorities Crush Online Dissent; Activists Detained Incommunicado,” Free News Free Speech (blog), June 2, 2010, http://freenewsfreespeech.blogspot.com/2010/06/authorities-crush-online-dissent.html.
George Kurtz, “Vietnamese Speakers Targeted in Cyberattack,” CTO (blog), March 30, 2010, http://siblog.mcafee.com/cto/vietnamese-speakers-targeted-in-cyberattack/; Neel Mehta, “The Chilling Effect of Malware,” Google Online Security Blog, March 30, 2010, http://googleonlinesecurity.blogspot.com/2010/03/chilling-effects-ofmalware.html.
Kurtz, “Vietnamese Speakers Targeted in Cyberattack.” Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Stop Cyber Attacks Against Online Critics.” VIETNAM FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net ZIMBABWE 2009 POPULATION: 12.6 million INTERNET FREEDOM n/a Partly INTERNET PENETRATION: 11 percent STATUS Free WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: No Obstacles to Access n/a SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: No Limits on Content n/a BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: Yes Violations of User Rights n/a PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Not Free Total n/a INTRODUCTION Internet and mobile-phone usage is nominally free from government interference in Zimbabwe, but there are indications that the government has a strong desire to control these communications technologies. There are also a number of practical obstacles that hinder citizens’ access, including poor infrastructure in urban areas, and an almost total lack of infrastructure in rural areas. Over the past decade, the country has experienced a major economic decline, contributing to severe power shortages and accelerated deterioration of the telecommunications system.1 Low bandwidth has also made internet connections extremely slow in Zimbabwe. Although internet access remains limited, since early 2009, the number of mobile-phone users has increased exponentially.The most worrisome development for the digital media sector has been the adoption of the Interception of Communications Act,3 which allows the government to monitor postal, telephonic, and internet traffic, and requires service providers to intercept Zimbabwe’s economy contracted significantly between 1999 and 2009 due to a political crisis associated with President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land-reform campaign, which entailed seizing white-owned farms and distributing them to black loyalists.
Inflation shot to astronomical rates of several billion percent, and the exchange rate of the Zimbabwean dollar tumbled to more than 50 billion per U.S. dollar. See BuddeComm, “Zimbabwe—Telecoms, Mobile, Broadband and Forecasts: Executive Summary,” http://www.budde.com.au/Research/Zimbabwe-Telecoms-Mobile-Broadband-and-Forecasts.html, accessed August 18, 2010.
“Zimbabwe Cell Phone Boom Still Can’t Beat Investor Fears,” My Broadband News, September 28, 2010, http://mybroadband.co.za/news/cellular/15445-Zimbabwe-cell-phone-boom-still-cant-beat-investor-fears.html. 3 The Interception of Communications Act is available at http://www.kubatana.net/docs/legisl/ica_070803.pdf, accessed August 22, 2010.
The Interception of Communications Act is available at http://www.kubatana.net/docs/legisl/ica_070803.pdf, accessed August 22, 2010.
ZIMBABWE FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net information on the state’s behalf.4 The regime has committed rampant human rights abuses and exercised strict control over the traditional media, but no concrete evidence of systematic internet filtering has been reported.5 Nevertheless, with the spread of mobile phones and the use of text messages to disseminate information critical of President Robert Mugabe and his supporters, the authorities have imposed some content restrictions and registration requirements related to these technologies in recent years.
The internet was first introduced in Zimbabwe in 1997, following the establishment of the first internet-service provider (ISP), Data Control, in 1996. The medium’s development has been rather uneven and erratic, owing to severe political and economic crises that have gripped the country since 2000.
OBSTACLES TO ACCESS Internet access has expanded rapidly in Zimbabwe, from a penetration rate of 0.3 percent in 2000 to about 12 percent (or 1.4 million of the country’s estimated 11.4 million people) by the end of 2009.6 The mushrooming of cybercafes in most of the country’s urban centers, coupled with the forced migration of many Zimbabweans to South Africa, the United Kingdom, Australia, and other countries as a result of the political and economic crisis, created a favorable environment for increased internet usage, as the new expatriates sought to stay in touch with friends and family in Zimbabwe. High prices and limited infrastructure put access to the internet beyond the reach of most of the population, particularly in rural areas. But for those who want to communicate with friends and relatives abroad, the internet represents a faster, easier, and cheaper alternative to telephony and postal services.
Furthermore, the restrictive traditional media environment, which is dominated by stateowned outlets, has made the internet popular with citizens seeking alternative information.
There is a vast divide between urban and rural areas with respect to internet penetration. Most rural communities are geographically isolated and economically disadvantaged, and have consequently failed to attract the interest of commercial service providers. Telephone penetration in rural areas is minimal, with lack of electricity representing a major challenge; radio remains the main communication medium in such regions. Many rural telephone connections are still shared or “party” lines, leading to poor Nqobizitha Khumlo, “Zim Internet Service Providers Struggle to Buy Spying Equipment,” Kubatana.net, August 10, 2007, http://www.kubatana.net/html/archive/inftec/070810zol1.aspspec_code=060426commdex§or=INFTEC&year=0&ran ge_start=1&intMainYear=0&intTodayYear=2010.
OpenNet Initiative, “Country Profile: Zimbabwe,” September 30, 2009, http://opennet.net/research/profiles/zimbabwe.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU), “ICT Statistics—Internet,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspxReportName=/WTI/InformationTechnologyPublic&ReportFormat=HTML4.0& RP_intYear=2009&RP_intLanguageID=1&RP_bitLiveData=False.
ZIMBABWE FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net or unreliable transmission quality, slow connection speeds, and difficulty initiating dial-up internet connections.Even in urban areas, electricity is regularly rationed, and the penetration of both the internet and mobile phones is uneven. In practice, internet access is limited largely to the few Zimbabweans with formal employment or positions in institutions of higher learning.
There is little if any internet penetration in the poor townships surrounding cities, where much of the population lives, as few township residents can afford it. Internet penetration is highest in the central business districts of the country’s two major cities, Bulawayo and Harare. However, with newly licensed data carriers starting to roll out fiber-optic networks across the country and establish links to international undersea cables, the situation is expected to improve.The prices for internet access in Zimbabwe are set by owners of cybercafes and ISPs;
the state has so far not interfered on this issue. But with the majority of Zimbabweans surviving on wages of around US$1,800 per year, a cost of living of more than US$6,per year, and access prices set at some US$600 per year for one hour of usage per day, the internet in Zimbabwe is mainly for the affluent.9 For those seeking home access, the general cost of a computer is US$1,300, a modem costs US$175, and the annual local telephone charges for dial-up access are around US$208.10 Fast and reliable satellite connections to the internet are also very expensive. Even those who have access to the internet at work can only use it for a limited amount of time, as companies seek to contain the high monthly fees they pay for broadband.