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What the state does not want you to know

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 11 Jun 2012 - If you are a human rights defender or free speech activist in Vietnam, there is bad news in store for you.

The government is cracking down heavily on activists who have been exposing the gross inefficiencies in the working of the government. Dr Cu Huy Ha Vu, a legal expert, was sentenced to seven years in prison in April 2012 for filing lawsuits against Prime Minister Dung, for approving a controversial Chinese-run bauxite mining operation in the Central Highlands. Vu was arrested on false charges of "Conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" as cited under Article 88 of the Penal Code.

This arrest makes Vietnam one of the worst countries for the protection of free speech and expression, with a number of free speech activists detained on false charges of violating the constitution. Injustice against human rights defenders and the unlawful detainment of bloggers have been made possible under provisions of the Constitution of Vietnam, which ensures that the Communist Party of Vietnam is the sole guardian of the constitution, in effect making the judiciary a toothless tiger unable to challenge the decisions of the executive.

In an attempt to curtail the press and online content, Vietnam plans to introduce a Decree on the management and use of internet services. According to a draft, any views that seem offensive to the Communist Party will automatically become a punishable offence. Following in the footsteps of China, Vietnam plans to reduce online anonymity by preventing netizens from using pseudonyms. All content on news websites will adhere to strict procedures of screening before being uploaded.

These harsh measures have already been adopted and made evident with the imprisonment of 18 bloggers over the past few years. Vietnamese blogger, Nguyen Hoang Hai has been languishing in prison for the past four years awaiting justice. His crime: exposing corruption and promotion of human rights in the country, and 'conducting propaganda against the country'. Another blogger, Ho Thi Bich Khuong, was convicted in 2011, on charges of giving interviews to foreign media which authorities allege were critical of the Socialist Republic.

There is absolutely no doubt that Vietnam is moving towards a regime of suppression of free expression and speech in the country. With draconian decrees in place, free expression is being denied to the citizens of the country, violating several international standards and declarations on human rights. Do we see the country replicating the steps taken by their communist neighbour, China? We think yes. The solution is to urge the international community to expose the gross violations of human rights and push Vietnam to reform the regulations for the internet and press.

If nobody takes notice of the harsh reality in the country - its citizens will soon become victims of an authoritarian regime denying basic rights to its people.

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