Internet activists and human rights groups are slamming a new decree in Vietnam that attempts to ban social media users and bloggers from posting news stories online. Decree 72 states blogs and social media sites should only be used to share personal information. It said users are “not allowed to quote, gather or summarize information from press organizations or government websites.” Some government officials have attempted to justify the law, saying it will help web users “find correct and clean information on the Internet.” But blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh tells VOA that is not the government’s job. “It’s up to one’s own decision and judgement to decide what information is good or bad. We don’t need the government to be a coach telling us what to think and what to do for ourselves,” he said. Other activists said the decree’s provisions are overly broad and will be used to prosecute critics of Vietnam’s communist government. It includes warnings of speech that is anti-Vietnam or that damages national unity. Phil Robertson with Human Rights Watch said although the new law includes very vague language, it will likely be used to target very specific individuals. “This is a law that has been established for selective persecution. This is a law that will be used against certain people who have become a thorn in the side of the authorities in Hanoi,” he said. Vietnamese have increasingly taken to social media to get an unfiltered view of current events in a country where all private media are banned. The migration away from traditional media has posed a challenge to a government that has long been able to monitor and regulate communications. Shawn Crispin with the Committee to Protect Journalists said the government’s concern about social media could explain the recent crackdown against online activists for alleged “anti-state” activity. “The campaign has indeed intensified over the last year. Authorities seem to be using the tactic of singling out individual critical bloggers as a way of sending a signal to the larger community that this will not be tolerated,” she stated. Crispin said another concern is that the new restrictions aim to make global Internet companies like Facebook and Google complicit in the anti- free speech crackdown. “If Vietnamese authorities determine the users of these services have violated Vietnamese law, then Facebook, Google and other international companies will be required to turn over to authorities the IP addresses and private information of those users,” explained Crispin. Crispin said it is not likely that these companies would comply with such demands. But he says the law may just be a prelude to Vietnam cutting off access to these sites, some of which are already partially blocked. Robertson, the Human Rights Watch researcher, said it is not likely Vietnam will be able to use the law to exert much pressure on international companies like Facebook. “But they will be able to go after people in Vietnam who post things on their Facebook accounts, and that’s where I think we’ll see the action take place,” he said. The law is set to go into effect September 1.
Tra Mi contributed to this report.