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Government crackdown on bloggers and websites

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, May 27, 2010 - Vietnam has launched a sophisticated and sustained two-pronged attack against online dissent, Human Rights Watch said today. The government is detaining and intimidating independent Vietnamese bloggers while also permitting cyber attacks from Vietnam to disable websites critical of the government.

In the past two months, Vietnamese authorities detained at least seven independent bloggers, subjecting them to extended interrogations and, in some instances, physical abuse. This intensified harassment has coincided with systematic cyber attacks targeting websites operated by some of these bloggers and other activists in Vietnam and abroad. The most damaging attacks are deploying "botnets" - malware disguised as software to support a Vietnamese-language keyboard – to spy on individual users and to carry out crippling denial-of-service attacks against websites. The attacks were confirmed by Google as well as McAfee, a major internet security firm.

"The government targets these internet writers simply because they voice independent opinions, criticize government policies, and expose wrongdoing," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Evidently the government is worried that these bloggers will reveal the inside story of government abuse and corruption, and report on incidents and issues it prevents from appearing in the state controlled media."

Detention of Bloggers

The following are some of the recent incidents in which bloggers were detained:

• On May 8, 2010, provincial authorities terminated the telephone and internet service at the home of Ha Si Phu, one of Vietnam's best known dissident bloggers. Ha Si Phu's telephone service was disconnected at the written instructions of the Bureau of Information and Media, based on a police investigation alleging that he had used his telephone lines to transmit "anti-government" information. Since the beginning of 2010, Ha Si Phu's blog and website have been plagued by periodic cyber attacks.

• On May 1, police detained two bloggers, Vu Quoc Tu (also known as Uyen Vu) and Ho Diep (also known as Trang Dem), at Tan Son Nhat airport in Ho Chi Minh City as the couple was boarding a plane to Bangkok for their honeymoon. The police held and interrogated them for hours and forbade them from traveling abroad, contending the restriction was based on reasons of national security.

• On the morning of April 28, Lu Thi Thu Trang, an internet activist associated with the pro-democracy group Block 8406, was beaten by police officers in front of her 5-year-old son. The police then took her to the police station and detained her for seven hours, interrogating her and repeatedly hitting her on her neck and face.

• Another blogger, Ta Phong Tan, has been detained at least three times during the last month, the last time on May 9. On April 20, police forced their way into her home in Ho Chi Minh City, took her to the police station for interrogation, and later released her. Ta Phong Tan is a former policewoman who blogs about corruption and injustice in the Vietnamese legal system. "Just like the last time (April 13)," she reported on her blog, "I was not allowed to wash my face or brush my teeth. I was barefoot and in my pajamas when I was taken into custody."

• On April 17, police detained and interrogated Phan Thanh Hai – a blogger known as AnhBaSG who frequently reports on illegal land seizures – and Le Tran Luat, the defense lawyer for Catholics at Hanoi's Thai Ha Church, protesting government confiscation of church properties. They were released after several hours of interrogation.

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