Mike Isaac

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Vietnamese Government Passes Law to Fine Social Media Critics

In the latest of a series of severe crackdowns against online speech, Vietnamese officials announced a new law that could give the government the power to jail or issue steep fines to citizens who criticize the state via social media outlets.

The law, known as Decree 72, is a vaguely worded dictum that allows the government to issue fines of up to 100 million dong (about $5,000 USD) to citizens who are “abusing the provision and use of the Internet and information on the web,” or those who “oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” and “undermining the fine customs and traditions of the nation,” according to language from the bill.

Some comments could also warrant imprisonment if considered “criminal,” though the distinction between comments worthy of fines and those worth jail time was unclear.

Vietnam has had a history of censoring sites on the Internet to its citizens, intermittently blocking Facebook since 2009. In September, the government banned bloggers and online commentators from discussing news and current affairs on their websites, keeping that news restricted to state-owned press outlets and operations. Another stipulation of Decree 72 requires foreign companies that work in Vietnam to host at least one server inside the country.

The Vietnamese government has arrested and jailed record numbers of dissident bloggers and activists in 2013 alone, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Activist groups including the EFF, the Asian Internet Coalition, Human Rights Watch and members of European Parliament have widely condemned the country’s crackdown against online speech.

In August, 11 human rights and activist organizations sent a joint letter to the Vietnamese government, condemning the state and requesting that a number of detained writers be released.

“We believe Vietnam as a country would benefit from greater respect for the civil liberties of its citizens and Vietnamese society would be richer with the contributions of all its citizens,” the letter said.

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