Vietnam police chief vows crackdown on online ‘crime’
Around 40 political dissidents have been arrested since January, most charged with spreading 'anti-state' material.
RFA | 2021-11-15
The police chief of southern Vietnam’s Can Tho City is vowing a crackdown on online “crime,” including the posting on social media of criticism of the country’s one-party communist state, according to state media reports on Monday.
Maj. Gen. Nguyen Van Thuan, director general of the Can Tho City Police, said that when pandemic restrictions begin to lift, authorities will need to guard against what he called “sabotage activities by hostile and reactionary forces.”
People may begin in particular to “take advantage of sensitive issues posted on social media in order to provide false information and launch a protest,” Thuan said in an interview published by the state-run Ho Chi Minh City Law Newspaper.
Limits on permissible online speech in Vietnam are vague, though, and red lines can easily be crossed, a Can Tho resident who was released from prison in June after serving an 18-month jail term for his postings told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday.
“When posting stories on Facebook in the past, I only thought that I was expressing my own opinions and not doing something so serious that I could be imprisoned for it,” said Chung Hoang Chuong, who had published online criticism of the deadly Jan. 9, 2020 attack by Vietnamese security forces on the Dong Tam Commune outside Hanoi.
“However, when I was arrested and prosecuted, I realized that Vietnamese law can often be interpreted in many ways.”
“For example, if I say there is too much rubbish on the road and in society, any ordinary person would think that I was talking about pressing and important social issues. But the authorities would say that I was criticizing or defaming the government,” Chuong said.
Arrests and suppression of dissent can force people into silence, but this does not mean they are unaware of what is happening in their country, Chuong added.
“We can access both domestic and foreign news and analysis through social media and online newspapers, and because of this, nearly everyone has developed a certain level of understanding. People just don’t dare to speak out,” he said.
Sentenced to seven years
Also on Monday, a court in central Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa province sentenced an aquaculture farmer to seven years in prison after finding him guilty in a one-day trial of spreading “anti-state propaganda,’ state media reported.
Nguyen Tri Gioan, a 42-year-old resident of the Cam Thuan ward of Khanh Hoa’s coastal Cam Ranh city, was convicted of “making, storing spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the state.”
According to the indictment filed against him, Gioan had created a Facebook page in February 2018 and gathered online “Friends” seen by authorities as “reactionary,” prosecutors said, adding that Gioan had also taken part in demonstrations in June 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City to protest a proposed law on Special Economic Zones.
Gioan was summoned by Cam Ranh police in August 2018 and fined VND 750,000 (U.S.$33) for participating in “gatherings at public places.” He then created another Facebook account in late 2019 which he used to publish content similar to his earlier postings, the indictment said.
Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index for 2021.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January.
Arrests continue in 2021, with police arresting around 40 political dissidents since the beginning of the year, most of them charged with "disseminating anti-state materials,” according to RFA reports.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by RFA.