new wave of crackdown on vietnamese bloggers

Thursday, May 10, 2012 – 00:56

 

by Cat Barton

When riot police broke up a recent protest in Hanoi over a forced eviction, Vietnam’s bloggers were ready. Hidden in nearby trees, they witnessed the entire incident and quickly posted videos and photos online.

Their shaky images spread like wildfire on Facebook, a sign of growing online defiance 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 Nguyen Thi Dung, one of several bloggers who publicized the April 24 Hung Yen unrest on several 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 watchdog group Reporters Without Borders – is preparing a new decree on online content in a bid to clamp down even harder on the country’s increasingly outspoken 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, force news websites to obtain government approval to publish, and compel site administrators to report any banned online activity. The decree also seeks to enjoin foreign companies that provide online services in Vietnam – e.g. Facebook and Google – to cooperate with the government and locate data centers in country.

But while some activists and experts see a chilling threat from the draft law, others say the government is fighting a losing battle in its quest to police Vietnam’s 30-million strong online community.

“Any imposition 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, he said.

David Brown, a retired US diplomat and Southeast Asia expert, said the draft decree was “unenforceable”. At worst, it will give authorities more explicit infractions with which to charge bloggers. But Brown doubts the decree “will inconvenience Facebook or Google, (or) change the de facto relationship of bloggers to the government.”

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 them 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.

Vietnam’s new decree is “an attempt to keep up with the times,” Thayer said. “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.”

Censorship is hardly new in communist Vietnam, but the repression of dissidents has intensified, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which systematically monitors online activity in many countries around the world.

Case in point: 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 said.

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.

Publication date:

GLOSSARY:


  • forced eviction: cưỡng chế đất đai
    protest: một cuộc biểu tình phản đối
    incident: sự cố, sự việc, sự vụ
    spread like wildfire: lan nhanh ra như lửa cháy rừng//go viral, go rampant
    rein in
    : kiềm chế, ngăn trở
    internet community: cộng đồng mạng
    keep track: dò la, theo dõi (công an) //follow
    take down: gỡ bỏ (trang web chống đối chính quyền)
    a perfect copy: bắt chước nguyên si
    in a bid to clamp down: nhằm mục đích đàn áp
    in a bid to: nhằm //in an attempt to
    in its quest to: nỗ lực cố gắng
    to police: dùng cảnh sát để theo dõi, khống chế
    30-million strong: có 30 triệu người tham gia
    imposition: việc áp đặt //obstruction, enforcement, blockage
    sporadically: thỉnh thoàng, có lúc; lai rai, lác đác, rải rác, rời rạc
    Southeast Asia expert: một chuyên gia về Đông nam Á
    unenforceable: không thể thi hành được, không cưỡng chế thi hành được
    territorial disputes: tranh chấp lãnh thổ
    land righs: quyền sử dụng đất /also, land-use rights, rights to land-use
    the heirs at law: người thừa kế theo pháp luật
    live-blogging: đăng tải blog trực tuyến, đưa tin cập nhật tại chỗ
    riot police: cảnh sát chống biểu tình, cảnh sát chống bạo động
    case in point: sự vụ để chứng minh, sự vụ minh chứng; trường hợp điển hình (để chứng minh một nhận định trước đó)
    rising discontent: sự bất bình gia tăng; sự bất mãn ngày càng tăng
    covering sensitive issues: đưa tin, viết bài về những vấn đề nhạy cảm
    virtually ignored in the state media.: hầu như bị lờ đi trên thông tin truyền thông nhà nước
    times: thời cuộc; tình hình thời sự đang diễn ra | eg. “an attempt to keep up with the times, to tighten the screw on internal dissidents ”
    tighten the screw on: siết chặt (quyền tự do)

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