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Vietnam: Crackdown on Cyber-Activists, Including Prominent Lawyer

(Aug. 6, 2009) According to a report issued by the Open Source Center (OSC) on July 9, 2009, Vietnam has launched a campaign to suppress bloggers, which “appears to be aimed at halting the relatively free political expression that has been evident online for several months.” (OSC Report: Vietnamese Authorities Seek To Silence, Intimidate Cyber-Activists, VIETNAM—OSC REPORT, July 9, 2009, available via WORLD NEWS CONNECTION online news database.) The acts to silence and intimidate online activists include widely publicized arrests of several of them; the hacking and closing of a number of popular blogs; denunciations of bloggers by some official media organs; threats to the blogging community members; and arrests on other charges, such as tax evasion. It seems that the campaign has met with a measure of success, apparently causing many bloggers to become apprehensive and some to stop writing. (Id.)

One of the bloggers arrested was prominent human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, who has expressed support for human rights activists and published articles in favor of democratization and freedom of the press that appeared mostly in overseas blogs and media. However, “[t]he articles that were directly critical of top leaders and the party … had recently appeared on popular anonymous blogs that were known to belong to Dinh only after his arrest.” (Id.) The formal charge against Dinh and his blog supporters was having “links with exiled reactionaries and terrorism organization[s],” as cited in the Vietnamese publication CONG AN NHAN DAN (described by OSC as “a major national security newspaper”) of June 14, 2009, but bloggers speculate that the more likely reason may be the Dinh group's criticism of Vietnamese leaders and perhaps in particular comments on the alleged “business frauds” of Nguyen Bao Hoang, the prime minister's son-in-law, remarks on “power struggles” among Vietnam's leaders, and criticism of the handling of a major corruption case involving the Ministry of Transport. (Id.)

Unidentified authorities apparently encouraged media reporting of Dinh's alleged misdeeds by giving all reporters who attended two press briefings in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City monetary gifts of VND300,000 (about US$17) each. Subsequently, Dinh was “extensively denounced by the media,” according to the blog of journalist Tran Dang, dated June 18. Dinh was expelled from the Ho Chi Minh City Lawyers Association three days after being officially charged, VietnamNet, (the news portal of the Ministry of Information and Communications) reported on June 22. (Id.)

In addition, a series of articles published by “several official and media outlets in late May and June” 2009 condemned a number of bloggers and warned against their influence on young Internet users. Some blogs were hacked; others were told “to tone down their criticism of the authorities.” Moreover, OSC reported, “[b]loggers have been discussing the risk of 'centipede legs' – a term used to depict undercover security agents – who apparently infiltrated bloggers friends' lists and posted intimidating comments about their articles.” (Id.)