Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 27 (of 30)
Political Environment: 30 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 23 (of 30)
Total Score: 80 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Following a relative easing of restrictions on the press in 2006 as Vietnam prepared for accession to the World Trade Organization, 2007 was marked by what Human Rights Watch termed "one of the worst crackdowns on peaceful dissent in 20 years." Over a dozen journalists and activists who had pushed for a more open media or had posted online essays calling for democratic reform were sentenced to long prison terms or house arrest. Nevertheless, several media outlets continued to press the limits of permissible coverage and Internet access increased.

Although the 1992 constitution recognizes the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association for all citizens, the propaganda and training departments of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) control all media and set press guidelines. In addition, a 1999 law requires journalists to pay damages to individuals or groups found to have been harmed by press articles, even if they are true. Reporting considered to be against the national interest can be charged under the criminal code and anti-defamation provisions. During 2007, several writers imprisoned for online postings were sentenced under the penal code's article 88, which punishes conducting anti-government propaganda. On July 1, 2006, in response to increasingly vibrant reporting by both the traditional and internet-based news media, the government passed a decree which defined over 2,000 additional violations of the law in the areas of culture and information and imposed hefty fines for offenders, with a particular focus on protecting "national security."

The ruling CPV generally views the media as a tool for dissemination of Party and State policy. Although journalists cannot cover sensitive political or economic matters or openly question the CPV's single-party rule without fear of reprisals, they are more often allowed to report on crime and official corruption, and such reports have become increasingly common. Nevertheless, several media outlets suffered retribution for testing the limits of permissible coverage in 2007. According to the U.S. State Department, two deputy chief editors of the Tuoi Tre daily were removed from their posts over a series of 2006 articles on corruption. In addition, VietnamNet, a main online news outlet, was fined $2,000 after publishing an editorial about disputed islands in the South China Sea in contravention to a government order to remain silent on the issue. As part of a broad crackdown on those calling for democratic reforms, staff members of several underground publications were imprisoned during the year. Father Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest and editor of Tu Do Ngon Luan (Free Expression), which launched in April 2006, was sentenced in March to eight years in prison. Six other individuals involved in the publication were also sentenced to prison or placed under house arrest. In April, police detained journalist and writer Tran Khai Thanh Thuy who serves on the editorial board of the dissident newsletter To Quoc (Fatherland). She remained in custody at year's end. In 2007, the government also cracked down harshly on Vietnam's fledgling community of online pro-democracy writers, sentencing six cyberdissidents to prison terms within one week in May; included in the group was Nguyen Van Dai, a prominent human rights lawyer, who was sentenced to five years in prison as a result of essays published on the internet, including on the BBC's Vietnamese-language website. A more positive development was the release of cyberdissident Nguyen Vu Binh, who was granted an amnesty by the president in June, apparently because of bad health. Nguyen had served five years of a seven-year sentence for posting articles about democracy on the Internet and maintaining e-mail contact with pro-democracy groups abroad. Though restrictions on foreign media outlets' hiring local journalists have reportedly eased somewhat, foreign reporters continue to be monitored closely, and their movements within the country are restricted. In March, the authorities refused to renew the visa of BBC correspondent Bill Hayton, forcing him to leave the country.

There is only one national television station in the country, state-owned Vietnam Television, although cable does carry some foreign channels. Radio is mainly controlled by the government-run Voice of Vietnam; only one other national private station operates in the country. All print media outlets are owned by or under the effective control of the CPV, government organs, or the army, although several newspapers, including Thanh Nien, Nguoi Lao Dong, and Tuoi Tre (owned by the Youth Union under the CPV), have attempted to become financially sustainable and to stop relying on state subsidies. Nevertheless, several underground publications have been launched in recent years, including Free Expression, Fatherland and Tu Do Dân Chu (Freedom and Democracy); they reportedly continue to circulate despite recent arrests of staff members. Foreign periodicals, although widely available, are sometimes censored, and the broadcasts of stations such as Radio Free Asia are periodically jammed.

Access to satellite television broadcasts and the internet is growing, especially in urban areas. Currently, more than 21 percent of Vietnamese reportedly have internet access. The first online news site, vietnamnet.vn, publishes in Vietnamese and English, while vietnamjournalism.com, a blog run by a local journalist, discusses professional and ethical issues. Website operators continue to go through internet service providers (ISPs) that are either public or part public owned, like Vietnam Data Communications, which is controlled by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications and caters to nearly a third of all internet users. ISPs are required by law to block access to designated websites that the government considers politically unacceptable, though many foreign news sites remain accessible. Cybercafés are required by law to register the personal information and record the sites visited by users. In September, the government shut down Intellasia.com, an online news and investment site, blocking access from inside the country and causing the server to crash. Following a raid on the offices and repeated threats from the authorities, its Australian owner and publisher Peter Leech fled the country.

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