Vietnam bloggers battle tightening censorship

When riot police broke up a recent protest over a forced eviction, Vietnam's bloggers were ready -- hidden in nearby trees, they documented the entire incident and quickly posted videos and photos online.

Their shaky images spread like wildfire on Facebook, in a sign of growing online defiance in Vietnam, in the face of efforts by authorities to rein in the country's Internet community.

"They follow me, they keep track of what I am writing, they keep track of all dissident bloggers. Anything they can do to harass us, they do," said blogger Nguyen Thi Dung, one of several bloggers who publicised the April 24 Hung Yen unrest on a variety of websites.

"They have many people browsing the net, reporting things they don't like, getting them taken down. It is a perfect copy of what the Chinese are doing on the Internet," she told AFP, asking that her name be changed for her safety.

Authoritarian Vietnam, classed an "enemy of the Internet" by Reporters Without Borders, is drafting a new decree on online content in a bid to clamp down on the country's increasingly bold blogosphere.

The 60-article draft decree -- a translated copy of which was obtained by AFP -- bans "abusing the Internet" to oppose the government.

It would force bloggers to post real names and contact details, make news websites obtain government approval to publish, and compel site administrators to report any banned online activity to authorities.

The decree also seeks to make foreign companies that provide online services in Vietnam -- like Facebook and Google -- cooperate with the government and could force them to locate data centres and offices in the country.

But while some activists and experts see a chilling threat from the draft law, others say the government is fighting a losing battle to police Vietnam's 30 million plus online community.

"Any kind of imposing of new limits will just lead to new ways of overcoming all difficulties to get through the firewall," one blogger said on condition of anonymity.

"People will always find new, creative ways to access banned sites -- like they already do with Facebook (which is sporadically blocked in Vietnam) now," he said.

David Brown, a retired US diplomat who served in several posts throughout Southeast Asia, said the draft decree was "unenforceable".

At the worst, the decree might give authorities more explicit infractions to charge bloggers with, he said.

But Brown said he doubted that "it will inconvenience Facebook or Google (or) change the de facto relationship of bloggers to the government", he said.

Internet commentators are increasingly covering sensitive issues such as corruption, territorial disputes with China and rising discontent over land rights, often linking up with disaffected communities.

In the past, journalists set up blogs to spread information not published in the mainstream press, but "the recent phenomenon of bloggers going to the sites of land protests to cover it virtually live is new", said Vietnam expert Carl Thayer.

Hanoi-based Nguyen Xuan Dien's live-blogging of the Hung Yen eviction -- with photos and video of thousands of riot police evicting farmers and beating two journalists covering the protest -- quickly went viral, giving the unrest wide coverage despite being virtually ignored in the state media.

Thayer said Vietnam's new decree is "an attempt to keep up with the times".

"(It will) tighten the screw on internal dissidents and severely restrict their activities by making them, as well as commercial service providers, responsible for material broadcast or stored on the Internet," he said.

While censorship is not new in communist Vietnam, New York-based Human Rights Watch has said the country "intensified its repression" of dissidents last year.

Three high-profile bloggers, including one whose case has been raised by US President Barack Obama, are currently awaiting trial in Ho Chi Minh City for "propaganda against the state".

If implemented, the new rules could "lead to more arbitrary harassment and arrests for online postings and an overall chilling effect that results in greater self-censorship", HRW's Phil Robertson told AFP.

Dung agreed the new moves represent the greatest challenge so far for the country's bloggers.

"If the decree is passed it will provide the police with a very good legal framework to destroy freedom of speech," she said.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Sandigan OKs hospital stay for GMA co-accused
    Sandigan OKs hospital stay for GMA co-accused

    The Sandiganbayan has allowed a government official, accused with plunder along with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to undergo a medical procedure at a hospital tomorrow. The anti-graft court permitted former Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) board member Benigno Aguas to undergo a cardiopulmonary/endocrine clearance at the St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City. …

  • Sandigan recommends executive clemency for ex-envoy
    Sandigan recommends executive clemency for ex-envoy

    The Sandiganbayan has recommended executive clemency for a former Philippine ambassador to Nigeria who was sentenced to 52 years for malversation of public funds. The Sandiganbayan First Division found Masaranga Umpa guilty of misusing the Assistance-To-Nationals Stand-by Funds totaling $80,478.80 in 2007, but the anti-graft court said the former assemblyman from Lanao del Norte should be pardoned. …

  • Stargazing at the mall highlights Earth Hour
    Stargazing at the mall highlights Earth Hour

    It was a night of stargazing in 58 SM Supermalls all over the country last night as these establishments participated in Earth Hour, an annual worldwide movement encouraging communities and establishments to switch off lights for one hour to raise global awareness of overuse of non-renewable resources. The Philippines has been an active participant of Earth Hour since 2008. Last night, in the province of Bulacan, for instance, all parishes, diocesan institutions, schools and household …

  • Payanig privatization hit
    Payanig privatization hit

    BLEMP Commercial of the Philippines, Inc. (BLEMP) denounced the recent announcement of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) to privatize the 18.4-hectare “Payanig sa Pasig” property. In a statement sent to The STAR, BLEMP lawyer Dennis Manalo said the PCGG has no right to auction the property because it has no valid title and is not in possession. The PCGG has not paid a single centavo in real property taxes for the property, he said. He narrated that it was in the early 70s …

  • New species of tarantula found
    New species of tarantula found

    Scientists from the Museum of Natural History (MNH) of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños have discovered a new species of cave-dwelling tarantula on an island off the coast of Quezon. The new species of the spider, Phlogiellus kwebaburdeos, was described in the recent issue of the Philippine Journal of Systematic Biology by MNH curators for spiders Aimee Lynn Dupo and Alberto Barrion along with their former student Joseph Rasalan. The tarantula was discovered by Rasalan during one …

  • Palm Sunday: Do not add to suffering of others
    Palm Sunday: Do not add to suffering of others

    As Christendom enters Holy Week today, Palm Sunday, an official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) yesterday called on the faithful not to add to the sufferings of their fellowmen. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Public Affairs (ECPA), said that while Palm Sunday is oftentimes remembered as the glorious arrival of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, it also signals the start of the Holy Week that tells of His suffering, death and …

  • Miriam pushes tougher graft law
    Miriam pushes tougher graft law

    Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has filed a bill that would make public officials liable for violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act even if they are elected to a fresh term or a new position. In filing Senate Bill 2716, Santiago sought to address what she said was the doctrine of condonation in Philippine jurisprudence brought about by the 2010 case of Salumbides vs. Ombudsman. “By merely asserting the doctrine of condonation, erring elective officials are automatically given a …

  • Phl hits back at China over sea infra work
    Phl hits back at China over sea infra work

    The Philippines assailed China yesterday for contesting Manila’s planned repair and maintenance works on some islands in the West Philippine Sea, saying they are “in no way comparable” to the Asian power’s massive reclamation activities which are in violation of international laws. “The Philippines’ possible undertaking of necessary maintenance and repairs on its existing facilities in the West Philippine Sea, over which the Philippines rightfully exercises sovereignty, sovereign rights and …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options