A coalition of 21 governments spanning five regions called on Vietnam Monday to review a controversial Internet decree that will come into force on Sept. 1, warning that it risks harming the one-party Communist state's economy, limits innovation, and deters foreign investment.
The Freedom Online Coalition said it "is deeply concerned" by the Decree 72, which will impose further restrictions on the way the Internet is accessed and used in Vietnam and will curb freedom of speech and restrict information people can share on social media.
The coalition was established two years ago by governments wanting to collaborate on efforts to advance Internet freedom. It comprises governments from Asia, Africa, Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East, including the United States and several other key developed nations.
"Decree 72 risks harming Vietnam’s economy by constraining the development of businesses in Vietnam, limiting innovation, and deterring foreign investment," said a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, Marie Harf, in a statement.
"An open and free Internet is a necessity for a fully functioning modern economy; regulations such as Decree 72 that limit openness and freedom deprive innovators and businesses of the full set of tools required to compete in today’s global economy," she said.
The Freedom Online Coalition called on the Vietnamese government "to revise Decree 72 so that it promotes the ability of individuals to exercise their human rights, including the right to freedom of expression."
Aside from the United States, the coalition comprises Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Estonia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Latvia, the Republic of Maldives, Mexico, Mongolia, The Netherlands, Tunisia, the United Kingdom, and Sweden.
Storm of protest
Decree 72 has ignited a storm of protest among Vietnam’s Internet users and international groups such as Google and Facebook as well as governments since it was made public last month.
It contains a clause stipulating that blogs and social media sites should only be used to share “personal information” and not news articles.
The decree also requires foreign companies to have at least one server inside the country, a move that gives the Vietnamese government some control over their activities and increases costs for multinational companies seeking to expand in Asia.
The Asia Internet Coalition, formed by eBay, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo!, said the decree would "negatively affect Vietnam's Internet ecosystem" and deter foreign investors.
The Freedom Online Coalition said Monday that that Decree 72 appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
It noted that a resolution adopted by consensus by the U.N. Human Rights Council in July last year confirms that human rights apply online as well as offline.
Global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said Decree 72 is the “harshest offensive against freedom of information” in Vietnam since 2011, when the government introduced Decree No. 2 setting out sanctions for journalists who violate a series of vague provisions.