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Media under siege

Notwithstanding the openings of an economic and financial character, which are essential to an economy open to the world, Vietnam continues to persecute dissidents and especially those who – given the times and the opportunities – work through the Internet, often sentenced for up to 12 years in prison for “propaganda against the state” and other crimes of opinion.
Despite the relative newness of the use of the Internet and the strict rules imposed by the government for its use as well as for the possession of personal computers, the Vietnamese are becoming an enthusiastic population of ‘internet users’, with at least one third of the population that uses the large network habitually. The growing popularity of the social media has become, however, also one of the concerns of the authorities, always fearful of destabilization. It is estimated that approximately 12 million people in Vietnam are at risk of information technology monitoring by the authorities.

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This situation, however, has not served to deactivate the desire to communicate and learn, and also to share views and information on issues that the official media routinely ignore or condemn. For this reason, in September 2013, the regime enacted a new law, Decree 72, to further limit what it considers manifestations of dissidence. With the new measures, blogs, forums, chat, tools like Twitter and Facebook will only be used to “provide and exchange information of a personal nature”. Excluded and subject to severe punishment is the exchange of information and ideas on matters of political, economic and social import; the distribution of articles and books online is prohibited. The new law also requires foreign companies active on the Internet to have their servers in the country, causing the disagreement of many – including Google and Facebook – who see the measure as a limit on investment prospects in Vietnam.

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A series of initiatives that will not lead the country to deviate much from the current 172nd position (of 179 in total) of the Index Freedom of information, but that seem to affect the government little, engaged in its own tug of war against the bloggers, jailed in dozens. Among these, the best known is a former civil servant become one of the fiercest critics of government policy, both internally, and with regard to the territorial disputes with China, one of the ‘forbidden’ topics in the country. The arrest of the 61 year-old Pham Viet Dao, exactly one year ago followed that of two other bloggers in the same month and an unprecedented vote of no confidence in Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, who narrowly avoided censure and possible resignation in a Parliamentary debate accompanied by the great interest of the ‘internet people’.
A court in the capital sentenced on 2 October 2013 a Catholic lawyer, a well-known known dissident activist, to two and a half years in prison for tax evasion.

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A sentence for the 41 year-old Le Quoc Quan, regarded by many as politically motivated. The dissident is not new to forms of persecution. Returned from the United States in 2007, he was arrested and detained for three months. In 2012, he was assaulted and had denounced threats of the authorities towards him and his family. The case of the activist is closely followed by the U.S. authorities, but also the Human Rights Watch is busying itself with the case of Le Quoc Quan, convinced that the charges of tax evasion were manufactured to punish him for his denunciation of human rights abuses through his blog. A case particularly significant for Catholics, but not isolated, and that involves dissidence, religious affiliation, use of the new communication tools and international attention, and not unique, however. (S.V.)

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