Tech giants must challenge Vietnam censorship: HRW

A Vietnamese pro-democracy activist arrested last month for his Facebook posts must be released, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong was arrested in the southern province of Lam Dong and charged with “making, storing, disseminating or propagandising information, materials and products that aim to oppose the state”.

HRW said it was unclear which Facebook post offended the government, although none involved incitement to crime, violence or hate speech. The New York-based NGO said Vietnam pledged to respect the right to freedom of expression by joining the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Vuong has criticised government corruption and its monopoly on power. He said on Facebook: “I am not certain that the entire state apparatus is corrupt, but I am 100-per-cent certain that those who have been involved in corruption are Communist Party members. Vietnam only allows one single party and does not allow any competing opposition.”

Vuong, 28, of Don Duong near Ho Chi Minh City, shared stories about land confiscation and raised cases of political prisoners, including Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, Nguyen Viet Dung and Phan Kim Khanh.

Vietnamese Christian human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai was jailed for representing victims of human rights abuses, including religious minorities. He was freed last year and has since spoken out in defence of human rights from exile.

“Because my activities relate to human rights and the promotion of religion in Vietnam, the government of Vietnam is worried that my work will destabilise them. The government believes that Christianity is a corrupted ideology from ‘the west’,” he told Christian Today.

Vietnam has an ongoing crackdown against critics. The rights group reported that, so far in 2019, at least 11 convictions have been carried out with sentences of between two and nine years for criticising the authorities, often on Facebook.

Vietnam’s controversial cybersecurity law was enforced in January.

“This overly broad and vague law gives the authorities wide discretion to censor free expression and requires service providers, including Facebook, to take down content the authorities consider offensive within 24 hours of receiving a request,” HRW said.

The rights group called on internet firms to publicly speak out against laws used to stifle free expression.

“Facebook, as one of the most widely used communications platforms in Vietnam, has the leverage to publicly raise human rights concerns with the government,” Sifton said. “While the company is subject to pressure from Vietnam, it also has clout because of its immense popularity in the country.”

Tech-savvy Vietnam is increasingly difficult to censor online. Picture credit: Wikimedia