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Internet decree or Internet-phobia?

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 21 Jun 2012 - ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned over Vietnam's proposed Decree on Management, Provision and Use of Internet Services and Information on the Network, which is anticipated to be released later this month. The implementation of the decree will greatly obstruct the right to freedom of expression by prohibiting online anonymity and placing the duty on service providers to enforce the decree regulations.

Vietnam, already infamous for its recent crackdown on bloggers, is further tightening its grip on free speech by putting forward a new decree to regulate online activity. The decree is problematic in that it requires all online users to use their real names and personal details, which in turn will create an environment of self-censorship. The decree also mandates for Internet companies to locate servers and offices inside the country, thereby placing them directly under Vietnamese law.

"Vietnam's deep-seated aversion towards the Internet and Vietnamese internet users, and its desire to keep all online activity under the thumb, is extremely worrying", said Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director ARTICLE 19. "Imprisonment cannot be the government's one-stop solution towards all online activists. The Vietnamese government must learn how to regulate the Internet without infringing upon the right to freedom of expression which is guaranteed under the Vietnamese Constitution."

Furthermore, if implemented, the decree will require website administrators to ensure that online content posted to their websites fall within the decree guidelines. This places website administrators in the vulnerable position of 'policing' their sites, and holds them liable for comments made by others. Overly vague provisions within the decree also give the government wide powers of interpretation, and greater ability to legitimise violations of freedom of expression.

The Vietnamese government has responded to the growing citizen movement which is taking root in the country by detaining numerous bloggers and writers for "propaganda against the Socialist state" under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code or on subversion charges using Article 79.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Vietnamese government to stop immediately its harsh crackdown on journalists and bloggers and to urgently release all those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 also calls on the Vietnamese government to suspend the passage of the draft decree and to amend it to reflect international standards of human rights.

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