A global media watchdog has slammed Vietnam’s new rules that bar Internet users from sharing news stories on social media sites, calling the restrictions one of the worst attacks on freedom of information in the one-party state in recent years.
Decree 72, which has ignited a storm of protest among Vietnam’s Internet users since it was made public Wednesday, contains a clause stipulating that blogs and social media sites should only be used to share “personal information.”
Under the new rules which go into effect in September, individuals will not be allowed to share news articles on social media sites and blogs, according to media reports and press watchdogs.
France-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Friday denounced Decree 72 as a “gross violation of the right to inform and be informed,” saying the social media restrictions will stifle a culture of independent information that has emerged in Vietnam’s blossoming blogosphere despite strict censorship controls.
“If it takes effect, Vietnamese will be permanently deprived of the independent and outspoken information that normally circulates in blogs and forums,” the group said in a statement on its website Friday.
The decree is the “harshest offensive against freedom of information” in the country since 2011, when the government introduced Decree No. 2 setting out sanctions for journalists who violate a series of vague provisions, it said.
It is not clear how Decree 72 will be implemented or what penalties individuals will face for violating its provisions, but Internet commentators said it could make it illegal to share links to stories or even discuss articles published online in Vietnam's state-run press.
Hoang Vinh Bao, head of Vietnam’s Department of Radio, TV, and Electronic Information, said that under the new rules, individuals will not be allowed “to quote general information … from newspapers, press agencies, or other state-owned websites,” according to a report on the state-run VNExpress news site.
Clause 20.4 of the decree stipulates that a “personal information webpage is a webpage created by individual on their own or via a social network.”
Such pages “should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual only; it does not represent other individual or organization, and is not allowed to provide compiled information,” according to a translation by Tuoi Tre newspaper.
Rights groups have also said the decree will force foreign internet companies like Facebook and Google to comply with Vietnam’s censorship laws.
The decree effectively aims to make such companies "complicit in curbing online freedoms," Shawn Crispin of media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists told Agence France-Presse.
A provision in an earlier draft that would have required foreign internet companies to establish offices in Vietnam was dropped from the final version, which was signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on July 15.
But the new rules will still require foreign companies to adhere to a strict set of guidelines governing what kind of content they can host on their websites and forcing them to turn over personal information about users who violate Vietnamese law.
Under the decree, Internet service providers are barred from "providing information that is against Vietnam, undermining national security, social order and national unity... or information distorting, slandering, and defaming the prestige of organizations, honor, and dignity of individuals.”
‘Nonsensical and dangerous’
RSF said the decree’s provisions restricting news on social media sites will be nearly impossible to enforce across the board, but they could be used to target and “make an example of” individuals who criticize the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party.
“The decree is both nonsensical and extremely dangerous,” the group said.
“Its implementation will require massive and constant government surveillance of the entire Internet, an almost impossible challenge. But, at the same time, it will reinforce the legislative arsenal available to the authorities.”
This year Vietnam has jailed more than 40 and activists amid a crackdown on online dissent that has intensified over the past three years, convicting many of them under vaguely worded national security provisions, according to rights groups.
RSF ranks Vietnam 172nd out of 179 countries on its press freedom index and lists the country as an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.