Articles 8 and 15 criminalize “denying the revolution’s achievements,” “offending national heroes” and “providing misleading information liable to cause confusion among the population” – vague formulations that could be applied to almost anyone posting information online that displeases the authorities.
Another alarming provision requires online platforms such as Google and Facebook to censor any content regarded by the government as contentious, to store Vietnamese user data in Vietnam, and to hand the data over to the Vietnamese authorities on request. The law is due to take effect next January.
“We urge Vietnam’s legislators to quickly repeal this draconian new law, which reinforces government control over access to information,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Despite the jailing of around 30 bloggers, surveillance of online activity and the military’s use of troll armies, the Internet continues for now to be the only place where Vietnamese citizens can exchange reliable, independent information. It is this pocket of the resistance that the Party’s current leadership wants to crush. We also urge online platforms not to yield to this law’s unacceptable blackmail.”
Resisting China’s counter-model
Even if none of the traditional media, which are subservient to the Party, has been able to discuss the new law, many well-known Vietnamese figures, including Party members, have voiced serious reservations about it.
Intellectuals, lawyers, war veterans and even parliamentarians have not only condemned the drastic nature of the curbs on the right to inform but have also, and above all, pointed that implementation of the new law could have a devastating effect on the country’s economy. More than 63,000 people have already signed a petition to this effect.
Other intellectuals, such as the blogger Manh Kim, have voiced concern about China’s growing influence.
“We know that the Vietnamese cybersecurity police are trained in China,” Manh Kim wrote in a post on 11 June. “We cannot rule out that China has helped Vietnam to design and equip its cybersecurity infrastructure (...) This reflects Party Chief Trong’s determination. Never before has the intention to push Vietnam into China’s orbit been as clear as it is now.”
On 10 June, tens of thousands of people took part in street protests throughout the country that were prompted by the concerns about Vietnam’s economy and sovereignty arising from the new law. “We will fight until the end,” is one of the new slogans now circulating on social networks.
Vietnam continues to languish near the bottom of RSF's World Press Freedom Index, and is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2018 Index.