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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Vietnam

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Vietnam, February 2005, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Despite U.S. and international pressure, Vietnam showed few signs of relaxing its choke hold on the press in 2004. While maintaining control of traditional media, the government intensified its crackdown on Internet dissent.

"Vietnam's press has been developing stronger than ever," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Dung told foreign reporters in March in response to questions about worsening conditions documented by CPJ. But for the Vietnamese government, a "strong" media means a compliant one.

An April report from Communist Party officials found that the media had "strictly implemented the party's lines and policies" and "contributed greatly to the campaigns and programs for socioeconomic and cultural development as well as to the national security and external relations domains." The government has ensured adherence to the party line by encouraging self-censorship, harassing journalists, and handing harsh prison sentences to dissenters.

International attention to rights violations put a spotlight on religious persecution and press freedom abuses in Vietnam in 2004. Vietnamese authorities released a number of writers from prison just as the U.S. Congress was considering the Viet Nam Human Rights Act. The measure, which was passed by the House in July but was not considered by the Senate before Congress adjourned in December, would have tied nonhumanitarian U.S. aid to improvements in Vietnam's human rights record. A similar bill died in the Senate in 2002.

Among those released was Le Chi Quang, a law school graduate who posted articles online that criticized the government. Quang served 19 months of a four-year sentence before being freed in June. Two other writers – Tran Khue and Pham Que Duong – were released in July after a year-and-a-half in jail for "taking advantage of democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of the state." Police kept the writers under close surveillance after their releases. Yet another two writers, Bui Minh Quoc and Ha Sy Phu, whose detention was prolonged past the terms of his original sentence, were released from house arrest in 2004.

However, other dissidents languished in prison. In May, a Hanoi court upheld the seven-year sentence of Nguyen Vu Binh, who was convicted on espionage charges in December 2003 after writing an article criticizing border agreements between Vietnam and China. Binh went on a two-week hunger strike to protest the sentence – prompting authorities to bar his wife from visiting.

Nguyen Dan Que, who refused a government offer to leave the country after his arrest for posting critical essays online, was sentenced to 30 months in prison in July. Both he and the imprisoned writer Dr. Pham Hong Son were transferred in September to a remote prison for hard-core criminals in Thanh Hoa Province, making family visits difficult.

Infrastructure and economic constraints – especially outside the capital, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City – keep Internet use lower in Vietnam than in many other Asian countries. Still, the government estimates that the number of Internet users nearly doubled in the last year, to 5.3 million people. In turn, in March authorities imposed strict new regulations to control political content online.

The new rules hold Internet café owners, service providers, and individuals responsible for information stored or transmitted online. Regulations prohibit using the Internet to "infringe on national security" or to store information classified under Vietnam's broad definition of "state secrets." The policy also requires Internet café owners to monitor their customers closely, recording detailed information on each one. In May, the central government formally ordered agencies and ministries to "tighten state management to prevent the exploitation and the circulation of bad and poisonous information on the Internet."

The Vietnamese government has repeatedly touted the media's coverage of corruption as proof of a free press, but content is carefully monitored by editors who must report to the Ministry of Culture and Information. And the central government rarely tolerates reports that question its practices. Truong Dinh Anh, head editor of the popular online magazine VnExpress, was fired under government pressure in November after allowing readers to post critical comments in response to a story about the government's purchase of 76 Mercedes-Benz cars for the biennial Asia-Europe Meeting, a summit of Asian and European heads of state, which was held in Hanoi. An official dispatch said the online magazine's postings "created an unfavorable public opinion inside and outside the country, thereby enabling hostile elements to take advantage of public opinion and smear Vietnam's government."

Foreign journalists remain under tight surveillance and must adhere to travel restrictions. A Hanoi-based correspondent told CPJ that his phone lines had been cut repeatedly while he tried to collect information on sensitive topics, and that officials had threatened to cancel his visa.

2004 Documented Cases – Vietnam

MARCH 2004
Posted: May 17, 2004

All media

Vietnam's Official Gazette announced tight regulations on providing and using the Internet in Internet cafés in an apparent attempt to silence online dissent.

Under Decision No. 71/2004, which took effect in March following the announcement in the Gazette, "detecting and stopping acts of taking advantage of Internet services to infringe upon national security or social order and safety" is the responsibility of Internet service providers (ISPs), Internet café owners, and individual Internet users in Vietnam, who all must "bear responsibility for information they store or transmit on the Internet."

Under the decision, it is prohibited to use the Internet to "infringe on national security"; store information classified as "state secrets" on Internet-connected computers; and access foreign ISPs to visit Web sites that have been "banned by competent State management agencies."

In Vietnam, "state secrets" is a broadly defined term that can include basic economic data or unsanctioned political reporting.

In addition, under Decision 71, Internet café owners are required to coordinate with the Ministry of Public Security and other state agencies in "discovering, stopping, and handling acts of taking advantage of the Internet to carry out activities infringing upon national security or social order and safety."

The policy requires ISPs to store on their servers for 15 days information posted and transmitted on the Internet. Internet café owners are also required to record "full and detailed information" about their customers, including names, addresses, and serial numbers from ID cards or passports.

Failing to comply with the regulations can result in a fine of up to 50 million dongs (US$3,290) or criminal prosecution, according to the Gazette.

State media, including An Ninh The Gioi (World Security), a newspaper operated by public security officials, reported the regulations in May. The paper quoted a police officer who helped write the new policy as saying that, "IDs or passports are now required at Internet cafés, just like at boarding gates for flights," according to The Associated Press.

Many of these regulations were already unofficially in place since a crackdown on Internet dissent began in 2002. In June 2002, the Ministry of Culture and Information called on owners of Internet cafés to monitor their customers' online activities to prevent them from accessing "state secrets" or "reactionary" documents.

December 3, 2004
Posted: Januray 05, 2005

Do Nam Hai, freelance

Writer Hai, who has penned articles critical of the Vietnamese government under the name Phuong Nam, was detained and held for 24 hours. A man whom the writer identified as a plainclothes police officer recently confiscated Hai's computer and said he would remove documents from it.

In late December, sources close to the journalist told CPJ he fears that authorities are planning to arrest him.

In the last five months, authorities have repeatedly detained Hai for interrogation. On August 6, police held him for two days.

While living in Australia in 2000 and 2001, Hai, who now works at a bank in Ho Chi Minh City, posted on the Internet a series of long articles on Vietnamese history and politics. The five articles, which included "Vietnam, My Land" and "Writing about President Ho Chi Minh," expressed his thoughts on aspects of Vietnamese history, called for democracy and a multiparty system, and proposed ideas for peaceful political reform.

On December 10, Hai wrote an open letter to the Vietnamese government disclosing his full name and address, reiterating thoughts expressed in his articles, and detailing the harassment he has faced from authorities during recent months.

"You labeled my articles ... as counter-revolutionary, against the Party and the government," he wrote. "But I have a different opinion; I believe they are materials for democracy."

Four Vietnamese writers – Nguyen Khac Toan, Nguyen Vu Binh, Pham Hong Son, and Nguyen Dan Que – are currently imprisoned for writing or distributing articles criticizing the government.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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