GENEVA, 13 September 2013 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Violations of Internet freedom and harassments against bloggers and netizens were denounced at a Conference on the margins of the 24th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 11 September 2013. The event was organised by the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), and co-sponsored by IFEX, Article 19, PEN International and Human Rights Watch.
Speaking on the theme of “Criminalisation of legitimate expression on the Internet: Testimonies from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia” were Mrs Sukanya “Joop” Prueksakasemsuk, wife of detained Thai journalist Somyot Prueksakasemsuk who is serving 11 years in prison for “lèse-majesté”, Ms Ramana Sorn from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, and Nguyen Bac Truyen, a Vietnamese blogger and former political prisoner who sent a audio message from Vietnam.
From left to right: Ramana Sorn (Cambodia), Sukanya Prueksakasemsuk (Thailand), Nicolas Agostini (FIDH), Vo Van Ai (Vietnam)
Mr. Vo Van Ai described Vietnam as “one of the most connected nations in Southeast Asia, but also one of the worst violators of freedom of expression.” He cited Vietnam’s recent adoption of Decree 72 on Internet Management, which came into force on 1st September. The Decree is “Vietnam’s most recent blow against freedom of expression”, he said, noting that it criminalised a whole range of vaguely-defined “prohibited acts”, imposed restrictions on the contents of personal blogs and social media, and obliged foreign companies to provide information on its users to the authorities.
He said that Internet penetration was spectacular in Vietnam, with over 31 million regular users (over one third of the population). “The Internet has triggered off a real thirst for information, debate, and exchange, as well as a desire to participate in the country’s affairs. Blogs and microblogs have blossomed in millions. They are bypassing the censorship of the mainstream, official press. An embryonic free press is being born with these blogs”, said Mr. Ai. But he warned that Hanoi was bent on stifling this upsurge of alternative expression.
“Today, Vietnam is pursuing one of the worst crack-downs on bloggers and pro-democracy activists in recent years At least 49 persons have been convicted in 2013 alone. The government is masking this repression behind a veneer of legality and an arsenal of spurious laws. Decree 72 is just one example” he said. (See full text of speech in French on website).
Nguyen Bac Truyen
Blogger Nguyen Bac Truyen, who sent testimony by audio from Vietnam, described his first-hand experience of harassments and beatings by secret police and hired thugs, and how he narrowly escaped arrest on 10 August, after he met a delegation from the US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee who were visiting Vietnam.
“Since Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang came back from a visit to President Obama in the United States at the end of July, government repression has entered a new, more violent phase. Bloggers and activists are directly targeted. Secret police openly brutalize and intimidate us. They stop at nothing in order to terrorize and repress Vietnamese human rights defenders, bloggers and dissidents”. He called on the international community to “take heed of the plight of bloggers and pro-democracy activists in Vietnam. I urge you to press Vietnam’s Communist authorities to cease human rights abuses and respect their international obligations to uphold freedom and human rights”.