Government wants to ban Internet users from discussing the news

Reporters Without Borders regards a new law on blogs and social networks – announced on July 31st and due to take effect in september – as a gross violation of the right to inform and be informed.

Known as Decree 72, the law restricts the use of blogs and social networks to “providing or exchanging personal information” and bans using them to share information from news sources.

“The announced decree is nothing less than the harshest offensive against freedom of information since Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed a decree imposing tough sanctions on the media in 2011,” Reporters Without Borders said. “If it takes effect, Vietnamese will be permanently deprived of the independent and outspoken information that normally circulates in blogs and forums.

“The decree is both nonsensical and extremely dangerous. Its implementation will require massive and constant government surveillance of the entire Internet, an almost impossible challenge. But, at the same time, it will reinforce the legislative arsenal available to the authorities.

They will no longer have to charge independent news providers with ‘anti-government propaganda’ or ‘trying to overthrow the government.’ Instead, they will just have to set a few examples under the new law in order to get the others to censor themselves. This decree’s barely veiled goal is to keep the Communist Party in power at all costs by turning news and information into a state monopoly.

“If Decree 72 is implemented, we urge the entire international community to condemn Vietnam severely and to consider imposing economic sanctions, especially on the tourism sector, to which the government pays a great deal of attention. Sanctions on tourism are the most likely way to get a reaction from the authorities.

Reporters Without Borders added: “Vietnam’s exclusion from the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership negotiations should also be considered. Everything possible must be done to prevent the creation of a new information black hole.”

Until now, blogs and social networks have been important sources of news and information for Vietnamese Internet users, and an effective way of bypassing censorship. But Prime Minister Dung announced that they could henceforth be used only to “provide or exchange personal information.”

The news website VNExpress quoted Hoang Vinh Bao, the head of the Broadcast and Electronic Information Department, as saying the new decree would mean that “individuals should not quote or share information from press agencies or websites of government agencies.”

The decree’s announcement came just days after Vietnam decided to be a candidate for membership of the UN Human Rights Council for 2014-2016. Reporters Without Borders points out that Article 9 of the General Assembly resolution creating the council – Resolution 60/251 of 3 April 2006 – states that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Vietnam falls far short of the highest standards and persecutes bloggers and netizens.

Reporters Without Borders recently launched a petition for the release of the 35 cyber-dissidents currently jailed in Vietnam, which is now second only to China in the number of news providers it is detaining.

Just a few months before his reelection as prime minister in 2011, Dung signed “Media Decree 2/2011/ND-CP” on the sanctions that could be imposed on journalists and media without reference to the courts.

It provided for fines of 1 to 4 million dongs (35-140 euros) for information about national or international developments that were not “honest” or “in accordance with the interests of the country and people.” It also banned bloggers from using pen-names and said journalists could be fined if they failed to identify the sources of their information.

Ranked 172nd out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Vietnam also featured in the special “Enemies of the Internet” report on surveillance that Reporters Without Borders released on 12 March, World Day Against Cyber-Censorship.

The Netizen Prize that Reporters Without Borders awarded on 12 March went to the blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh for his commitment to freedom of information in Vietnam.

You too can demand the release of the 35 bloggers by signing this petition.