A climate of fear exists in Vietnam, with people afraid to post information online and internet cafe owners forced to inform on their customers, reveals a new report released today by Amnesty International. Individuals are harassed, detained and imprisoned for expressing their peaceful political views online, with fear of prosecution fuelling widespread self-censorship.
But the report also reveals a growing network of activists and campaigners who are defying government controls and using the internet to discuss human rights, as well as a fledgling democracy movement that is growing online.
The report comes one week before a UN meeting to discuss the future of the internet?the internet Governance Forum in Athens?at which governments, companies and NGOs will discuss freedom of expression online and other issues. An Amnesty International delegation will deliver a petition signed by more than 42,000 supporters of its irrepressible.info campaign calling for an end to internet repression.
“In Vietnam, the click of a mouse can land you in jail,” said T. Kumar, Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific. “The authorities have tightened the screws on the internet. In the climate of fear they’ve created, informers track Web users, and people who assert their right to free expression are persecuted.
“The Vietnamese authorities must stop denying free speech online, and free the Web users they have unfairly imprisoned.”
Amnesty International is asking people to go to http://irrepressible.info, where they can support its campaign against internet repression and e-mail the Vietnamese authorities, demanding the release of people imprisoned for expressing their peaceful political beliefs online.
The report details the Vietnamese authorities’ tightening of control over the internet in recent years. internet Service Providers are required to inform on Web users, internet caf? owners are required to monitor and inform on customers, and Web users themselves are required to inform on sites that oppose the state. Laws ban Web users from spreading information that causes “harm to national security or social order.”
Filtering and blocking of Web sites is also on the increase, according to the report. And while the Vietnamese authorities claim that filtering is for the protection of Web users from pornography, a recent OpenNet Initiative report found little filtering of such material. Instead, blocked sites are those referring to known dissidents or mentioning democracy and human rights.
Amnesty International’s report highlights several cases, including:
? Nguyen Vu Binh, a 37-year-old journalist, was arrested in September 2002 for passing information through the internet to overseas Vietnamese groups. At his trial in December 2003 he was charged with “spying” under Article 80 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to seven-years’ imprisonment, plus three-years’ house arrest on release. He is currently detained at Ba Sao prison camp in Nam Ha province in northern Vietnam.
? Truong Quoc Huy, 25, was first arrested in October 2005 with two other young people after chatting on a democracy and human rights Web site, held incommunicado for nine months, then released. On August 18, he was rearrested in an internet cafe in HCM City where he had logged on to a chatroom. His whereabouts remain unknown and no charges have been made public.
Amnesty International believes that both Nguyen Vu Binh and Truong Quoc Huy are prisoners of conscience and calls for their inclusion in the release of prisoners that the authorities have announced will take place in late October.
? Cong Thanh Do, a US citizen, was arrested in August and released September 21. The Vietnamese authorities claimed that he planned a terrorist plot to destroy the US consulate. However, the US ambassador reportedly said that the United States had seen no evidence to support the claim and that they hoped for his release. Cong Thanh Do was a member of the People’s Democratic Party, which advocates for political change and human rights and had posted numerous articles online about human rights in Vietnam. Amnesty International believes that his arrest was aimed solely at punishing him for expressing his political views.
The report is part of Amnesty International’s work on internet repression linked to its irrepressible.info campaign, which launched in May 2006. The campaign highlights the rise of internet censorship and the cases of individual prisoners of conscience, imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their beliefs online. It enables Web users to take action to combat internet repression: emailing governments, supporting Amnesty International’s online petition, and spreading the campaign by publishing fragments of censored material from Amnesty International’s online database.