Vietnam Issues Social Media ‘Code of Conduct,’ Putting Repression Into Rules

The move forbids the posting of 'inappropriate' content and encourages account holders to inform on other users.
2021-06-18
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Vietnam Issues Social Media ‘Code of Conduct,’ Putting Repression Into Rules A social media user checks Vietnam's homegrown Gapo app in Hanoi in a July 24, 2019 photo.
AFP

Vietnam’s government has introduced a nationwide code of conduct for users of social media, forbidding the posting of ‘inappropriate’ content and urging account holders to inform on other users deemed to be breaking the rules, state media said this week.

Issued on Thursday by the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), the new regulations apply to all social media users in Vietnam: public servants, private individuals and organizations, and service providers.

The new code states it is designed to “ensure the right to freedom of individuals,” but calls at the same time for users not to post information that “violates the law, offends the honor and dignity of other organizations and individuals, [or] affects their legitimate rights and interests.”

The regulation’s language closely mirrors that of Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code, under which democracy advocates and independent journalists have often been jailed for “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to violate the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals.”

International human rights organizations and press freedoms watchdog groups have called for the Article’s removal from the criminal code on the grounds that it violates Vietnamese citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and expression and is used only to punish dissent.

The new code of conduct also calls on public servants encountering “conflicting and unlawful information” related to their work to report these violations to their “governing organization,” and on service providers to cooperate with the government to remove “unlawful content.”

“Vietnam today is one of the most repressive environments in the world with regards to freedom of expression online,” human rights group Amnesty International said in a November 2020 report, “Let Us Breathe—Censorship and Criminalization of Online Expression in Vietnam.”

“While the internet has provided an unprecedented opportunity for the Vietnamese people to express and exchange political opinions, it has also left users at increased risk of harassment, intimidation, physical assault and prosecution by state authorities bent on eliminating dissent,” Amnesty said in its report.

Harsh forms of persecution

With Vietnam’s media all following Communist Party orders, “the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher forms of persecution,” the press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index.

Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its report, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year.

“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.

In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Washington D.C.-based Freedom House gave Vietnam an overall score of 19 out of a possible 100, a one-point drop from last year’s rating. Vietnam scored three out of 40 in political rights, and 16 out of 60 in civil liberties.

”Freedom of expression, religious freedom, and civil society activism are tightly restricted [and the] authorities have increasingly cracked down on citizens’ use of social media and the internet,” Freedom House said.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. But arrests continue in 2021.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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