Domain name: .vn
Population: 86,116,559
Internet-users: 20,669,285
Average charge for one hour's connection at a cyber-café: about 2 euros for tourists. In general less for nationals
Average monthly salary: about 54 euros a month (US State Department)
Number of private Internet service providers: 8
Number of public Internet service providers: 2
Number of imprisoned bloggers: 7

Since it has found itself unable to control the content of blogs and online expression, Vietnam has adopted very harsh rules to crack down on dissident voices.

Since 2002, Vietnam has equipped itself with a cyber-police force that filters "subversive" content and keeps cybercafés under surveillance.

Vietnam's young population has taken to the Internet with enthusiasm, whether for computer games or getting news. But the mastering of the network by pro-democrat militants disturbs the authorities and political content is regularly blocked under the auspices of the interior ministry.

"A blog is a personal news page. If a blogger uses it for general news like the press, he is breaking the law and will be punished", Deputy Minister for Information and Communications, Do Quy Doan, said in February 2009.

Official control of Internet access began on 6 June 1996 through the General Direction of Posts and Telecommunications. Until 19 November 1997, the Internet was limited to email and local data bases. The state, shareholder in all access providers, follows to the letter Article 33 of the 1992 Constitution, under which "the state must suppress all activities in the fields of culture and information that harm national interests, destroy the personality, moral values and lifestyle of the Vietnamese people.

Foreign companies urged to co-operate

There are almost a million blogs in Vietnam in a population of 85 million. Unlike China, Vietnam has not created easily controllable blog platforms. More than 80% of Vietnam's Internet users are hooked up to the American companies Google and Yahoo!, thus with websites hosted abroad, which the authorities can block but cannot shut down. In order to keep control, the government has strengthened already existing laws that ban all forms of online opposition. A decree on Internet management and electronic communications that came into force in September 2008 lays down that "opposition to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is forbidden" (Article 6).

The ministry of information and communications is also planning to put forward co-operation proposals to regulate the content of blogs using foreign companies' platforms, under which they would have to accept to provide information about their customers.

In fact, a government notice, Circular n°7, came into force on 20 January 2009, which is designed to control blogs and their content. It is now illegal for a blogger to post articles under another identity. Blogs can only carry strictly personal information (Article 1) and it is banned to "put out press articles, literary works or other publications banned by the press law" (Article 2). Moreover, every six months, at the request of the authorities, hosts must make a report on the activities of their customers including the number of blogs they run and their statistics as well as details of blogs that violate rules established by the host (Article 6).

For Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Do Quy Doan, "Bloggers are supervised to prevent them from entering into illegality or putting out false information: criticising the fatherland, the work of constructing the country, denigrating and damaging the honour and human dignity of an individual, and organisation, dividing the unity of the nation ...".

Seven cyber-dissidents behind bars

The Vietnamese authorities have a very intrusive surveillance system of people who are critical of the regime, the most common method being phone-tapping. But they have also been using filtering of emails and Internet accounts. A few days before the Olympic torch was due to pass through Ho Chi Minh City, on 19 April 2008, the journalist and blogger, Nguyen Van Dai, better known as Dieu Cay, was arrested in the city of Dalat, south Vietnam. Five days later he was charged with "tax fraud" and sentenced to two and a half years in prison, on 4 December. According to his son, Dieu Cay had been closely watched since his participation at the start of 2008 in demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City in protest against Chinese policy in the Paracels and Spratley archipelago.

Police have harassed his family and his property has been seized. Some of his colleagues have also regularly been threatened and arrested. One of them, who asked for anonymity, lost his job on government orders and fears arrest for "revealing information abroad with the aim of overthrowing the government" for having given interviews to foreign media.

Since August 2006, eight people have been arrested and sentenced because of their online posts, given Vietnam second place on the podium of online repression, after China. One of them, Huyhn Nguyen Dao, was released on 15 February 2009 after serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for "propaganda against the regime". He has said that challenging rules imposed by the Hanoi Communist regime has been pursued above all on the Internet. On his release, he told Reporters Without Borders about his concerns about cyber-dissidents of "bloc 8406", who began a hunger strike on 19 February 2009 in protest at the prison conditions.

Founded in April 2006, "Bloc 8406" is a prodemocracy movement that launched an online petition in 2006 calling for government reforms. In October, the foreign ministry spokesman called this group "illegal" and the security services have relentlessly gone after its main movers. In May 2007, six of its members were arrested for "propaganda hostile to the government" because of remarks on the Web. Huynh Nguyen Dao, Le Nguyen Sang and Nguyen Bac Truyen were sentenced to three, four and two and a half years in prison and lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, to four and three years. Tran Quoc Hien, aged 42, spokesman for the United Workers – Farmers Organisation (UWFO), was sentenced to five years in prison at the end of a four-hour trial. It was the worst crackdown in the country since 2002.

Links: news website of the "free journalists' club" founded by cyber-dissident Dieu Cay (in Vietnamese). official daily (English) website of the Bach Khoa Centre (Vietnamese) Radio Free Asia, Vietnamese section Financial news website about the Vietnamese economy (English).


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