U.S. Denounces Vietnam’s New Limits on Dissent on Internet

HONG KONG — American officials criticized the Vietnamese government on Tuesday for its new limits on political dissent on the Internet, citing a decree that appears to restrict people from sharing news articles on social media and personal Web sites.


The decree, announced last Wednesday and scheduled to go into force on Sept. 1, states that personal blogs and social media sites “should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual only.”

In a statement, the American Embassy in Hanoi said that the new rule, called Decree 72, “appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Vietnam has received some praise over the last year from human rights activists as it has begun drafting a new constitution that addresses civil liberties and religious tolerance.

But like other Asian nations, particularly China, it is grappling with how to handle the widespread adoption of social media by its citizens — and its ability to broadly disseminate articles critical of the government.

It was unclear how the government would enforce the new ruling. In China, articles critical of the government are routinely disseminated on social media but then often swiftly removed, and searches for certain sensitive words or phrases are often blocked, creating a game of cat and mouse in which users try to outsmart the censors.

Hoang Vinh Bao, head of Vietnam’s Department of Radio, TV and Electronic Information, was quoted by the state-run VnExpress news site as saying that under the new decree, individuals would not be allowed to quote general information “from newspapers, press agencies, or other state-owned Web sites.” But he later calibrated the remarks to suggest that the decree would limit only the way that information from other sources was reposted.

Reporters Without Borders, a free-press advocacy group, has assailed Decree 72 as a “gross violation of the right to inform and be informed.”

In its report this year on civil liberties in Vietnam, Human Rights Watch credited Vietnam by noting, “On the surface, private expression, public journalism and even political speech in Vietnam show signs of enhanced freedom.” But the group added that “there continues to be a subcurrent of state-sponsored repression and persecution of individuals whose speech crosses boundaries and addresses sensitive issues such as criticizing the state’s foreign policies in regards to China or questioning the monopoly power of the communist party.”

The American Embassy also raised alarms on Tuesday about new requirements that could force companies like Google and Facebook to comply with Vietnam’s censorship laws, banning them from “providing information that is against Vietnam, undermining national security, social order and national unity.”

The embassy said such a requirement would “limit the development of Vietnam’s budding IT sector by hampering domestic innovation and deterring foreign investment.”

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