Viet Nam: Freedom forbidden even in cyberspace

Amnesty International said:

'In Viet Nam, clicking on the 'send' button carries the risk of being sent to prison and having your friends and family put under 24 hour surveillance.

'While the internet has given those critical of the government a place to express their opinions, the Vietnamese authorities have become very sophisticated in tracing their electronic footsteps and arresting and imprisoning them.'

The report, Socialist Republic of Viet Nam: Freedom of expression under threat in cyberspace, examines how the Vietnamese authorities have used national security legislation to prosecute 'agitators' and 'reactionaries' in a series of high-profile trials for exchanging emails with contacts in the Vietnamese diaspora, posting articles critical of the government on the internet and expressing dissenting opinions.

There are estimated to be more than two and a half million Internet users in Viet Nam, most of whom get access to the net through the country's 5,000 cyber-cafes. The Vietnamese government has a policy of promoting internet use in order to aid economic development but at the same time is increasingly suspicious of the opportunities it offers dissidents. It has resorted to blocking many websites, monitoring emails, website content and chat-rooms, and encouraging internet café owners and ISPs to report on cyber-dissidents.

Amnesty International added:

'The Vietnamese government appears unwilling to recognise that the internet can only be a tool for development and prosperity if the right to freedom of expression and information is respected fully in both law and practice.'

Brothers Nguyen Vu Viet, Nguyen Truc Cuong and their sister Nguyen Thi Hoa, sent information to overseas Vietnamese groups about religious freedom in Viet Nam, and referred to their uncle, the long-standing critic of the government's religious policies, Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, who is already serving a ten-year prison sentence. They were charged with 'abusing democratic freedoms' and sentenced to five, four and three years respectively after a closed trial which lasted three hours. Their appeal is due to be heard on 28 November 2003.

In August 2002, the Ministry of Culture and Information closed down the website of TTVonline.com which had previously been named 'best Internet site for young people' in 2001 receiving 260,000 hits a day. The authorities reportedly objected to the raising of the sensitive issue of the border dispute between Viet Nam and China, official corruption, political change and Viet Nam's relationship with the USA. Do Quy Doan, then head of the press and information department of the Ministry of Culture and Information is reported to have said 'the website exercised no integrity in carrying out their online journalism and behaved like a tabloid paper.'

Amnesty International believes that human rights principles should also apply in cyberspace. Given the potential ease for arbitrary government control and interference with the right to freedom of expression in cyberspace, enhanced practical provisions need to be made to protect the fundamental human rights of the individual. The UN's Human Rights Committee has made clear that guarantees of freedom of expression need to keep pace with technological developments in communications to be meaningful.

Amnesty International is calling on the Vietnamese authorities to:

  • immediately and unconditionally release of all those imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their views
  • remove restrictions on the management of the Internet, including ISPs, personal websites and the operation of Internet cafes
  • revise the Criminal Code so that no ambiguous provisions permit the stifling of dissent and debate
  • revise criminal procedures to bring them into line with international fair trial obligations
  • make reference to international standards in the drafting of any freedom of expression legislation

The full text of the report is available online at: http://www.web.amnesty.org/library/index/engasa410372003

New Asia-Pacific website

On 26 November Amnesty International launches its new Asia-Pacific website, a virtual base for campaigning in the Asia and Pacific region. It will report on human rights violations across the region including articles on arrests for using the Internet in Vietnam, rape in police custody in Sri Lanka, beatings of Indonesian asylum seekers by the Malaysian authorities and executions in China.

The site will be a tool for Amnesty International's members in the region who are campaigning to defend their own rights and those of others. Launched initially in English language, the site will in future have postings in regional languages. To view Amnesty International's new Asia-Pacific Website please go to: http://www.asiapacific.amnesty.org

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