Vietnam censors battle bloggers Favorite 

Practitioner: 

Date: 

May 9 2012

Location: 

Hanoi, Vietnam

From New 24
By SAPA

Hanoi - When riot police broke up a recent protest over a forced
eviction, Vietnam's bloggers were ready - hidden in nearby trees, they
documented the entire incident and quickly posted videos and photos
online.

Their shaky images spread like wildfire on Facebook, in a
sign of growing online defiance in Vietnam, in the face of efforts by
authorities to rein in the country's internet community.

"They
follow me, they keep track of what I am writing; they keep track of all
dissident bloggers. Anything they can do to harass us, they do," said
blogger Nguyen Thi Dung, one of several bloggers who publicised the 24
April Hung Yen unrest on a variety of websites.

"They have many
people browsing the net, reporting things they don't like, getting them
taken down. It is a perfect copy of what the Chinese are doing on the
internet," she said, asking that her name be changed for her safety.

Authoritarian
Vietnam, classed an "enemy of the internet" by Reporters Without
Borders, is drafting a new decree on online content in a bid to clamp
down on the country's increasingly bold blogosphere.

Chilling threat

The
60-article draft decree - a translated copy of which was obtained by
AFP - bans "abusing the internet" to oppose the government.

It
would force bloggers to post real names and contact details, make news
websites obtain government approval to publish, and compel site
administrators to report any banned online activity to authorities.

The
decree also seeks to make foreign companies that provide online
services in Vietnam - like Facebook and Google - co-operate with the
government and could force them to locate data centres and offices in
the country.

But while some activists and experts see a chilling
threat from the draft law, others say the government is fighting a
losing battle to police Vietnam's 30 million plus online community.

"Any
kind of imposing of new limits will just lead to new ways of overcoming
all difficulties to get through the firewall," one blogger said on
condition of anonymity.

"People will always find new, creative
ways to access banned sites - like they already do with Facebook [which
is sporadically blocked in Vietnam] now," he said.

David Brown, a
retired US diplomat who served in several posts throughout Southeast
Asia, said the draft decree was "unenforceable".

Sensitive issues

At the worst, the decree might give authorities more explicit infractions to charge bloggers with, he said.

But
Brown said he doubted that "it will inconvenience Facebook or Google
[or] change the de facto relationship of bloggers to the government", he
said.

Internet commentators are increasingly covering sensitive
issues such as corruption, territorial disputes with China and rising
discontent over land rights, often linking up with disaffected
communities.

In the past, journalists set up blogs to spread
information not published in the mainstream press, but "the recent
phenomenon of bloggers going to the sites of land protests to cover it
virtually live is new", said Vietnam expert Carl Thayer.

Hanoi-based
Nguyen Xuan Dien's live-blogging of the Hung Yen eviction - with photos
and video of thousands of riot police evicting farmers and beating two
journalists covering the protest - quickly went viral, giving the unrest
wide coverage despite being virtually ignored in the state media.

Thayer said Vietnam's new decree is "an attempt to keep up with the times".

"[It
will] tighten the screw on internal dissidents and severely restrict
their activities by making them, as well as commercial service
providers, responsible for material broadcast or stored on the
internet," he said.

Greatest challenge

While
censorship is not new in communist Vietnam, New York-based Human Rights
Watch has said the country "intensified its repression" of dissidents in
2011.

Three high-profile bloggers, including one whose case has
been raised by US President Barack Obama, are currently awaiting trial
in Ho Chi Minh City for "propaganda against the state".

If
implemented, the new rules could "lead to more arbitrary harassment and
arrests for online postings and an overall chilling effect that results
in greater self-censorship", said HRW's Phil Robertson.

Dung agreed the new moves represent the greatest challenge so far for the country's bloggers.

"If the decree is passed it will provide the police with a very good legal framework to destroy freedom of speech," she said.

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