Vietnam cracks down on net 'subversives'
David Smith / London Observer | October 22 2006
Vietnam is controlling the use of the internet by encouraging providers and users to spy on each other and turn informant if they suspect politically 'subversive' activity, according to a report today by Amnesty International.
The communist regime has harassed, detained and imprisoned its citizens for expressing peaceful political views online, leading to widespread self-censorship among the Vietnamese. Owners of the country's hugely popular internet cafes have been described by the organisation Reporters Without Borders as 'police auxiliaries'.
The report comes before a petition calling for an end to internet repression and signed by 42,000 supporters of Amnesty and The Observer's Irrepressible.info campaign, is presented to the UN's Internet Governance Forum in Athens next week.
Internet service providers in Vietnam are required to inform on web users; internet cafe owners are required to inform on customers; and web users 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'.
While the Vietnamese government claims that filtering is for the protection of web users from pornography, a recent OpenNet Initiative study found little filtering of such material. Instead blocked sites are those referring to known dissidents or mentioning democracyand human rights.
Cong Thanh Do, who uses the internet to promote democracy in Vietnam, was arrested on 14 August, accused of attempting to 'implement a terrorist plot to destroy the US General Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City'.
He spent 38 days in solitary confinement in a cramped cell, maintaining a hunger strike for the entire period. American officials said there was no evidence to support the allegation and he was released. Amnesty believes that the arrest of the 47-year-old - who lives in America and travelled to Vietnam regularly but is now barred - was aimed solely at punishing him for expressing his political views.
Cong Thanh Do said: 'There are internet police who can hack into your email account and read everything. That's what happened to me. I think they really wanted to put me in jail for a long time to destroy my group, the People's Democratic party, so they accused me of being a terrorist.' He added that six members of the party are still in prison.
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