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Vietnam: Deputy PM’s Flip-Flopped Position Signaled Government Will Take Tough Measures on Cybersecurity Law?

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Deputy PM Vu Duc Dam. Photo credits: Giao duc Vietnam newspaper.

Once regarded as the poster’s child for – what was hoped by some – the progressive faction within the Communist Party, Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, had recently shown his allegiance to the Party’s hardlines, at least on the issue of cybersecurity.

As the Vietnam’s National Assembly is currently reviewing the latest Draft Law on Cybersecurity, on November 17, 2017, the 54-year old Deputy PM Dam delivered a passionate speech defending why Vietnamese government must control social networks and limit the numbers of Internet users.

Dam even praised China’s efforts on controlling social media through the use of an Intranet and heavy censorship on search contents.

But just last year, in March 2016, it was also the same man, Deputy PM Dam, who spoke at a World Bank conference and praised technology, pledging his commitment to support an uncensored Internet in Vietnam.

“I want to say that now is not the time to discuss the benefits of digital technology, but to affirm: Though digital technology itself has negative sides, this is not by its own faults but rather by those who use it. Thus, we cannot restrain it because of the negative impact, but must find all means to allow it to grow.”

Would Mr. Dam’s recent change of heart on the issue of Cybersecurity demonstrate the impossibility for Party’s cadres to break free from its political ideology, namely those who are in the Politburo?

Mr. Dam had long been trusted with the tasks of managing the field of Information and Communications in Vietnam. He has also been viewed as an official who’s more open and friendly with the IT community, given his background working at the National Central Bureau of Post Office and had served as the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Post Office and Telecommunications.

It was as recent as February this year, during a talk with FPT University’s students, Dam recalled how he had met with top technology personnel in the country and advised them that the World’s Fourth Industrial Revolution shall be defined by the term “connection”.

And by connection, Dam meant, “the eight billion equipment which connects at every level, every angle, and does not limit itself to one university, one province, one country but is a global connection. This revolution would have an intimate relationship with technology.”

So what had changed?

What would make a man went from one who believed in the ability for people to have a global “connection” as the core element of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to a defender of government’s Internet censorship, and a supporter of an “Intranet” construction – identical to that of China?

Because now, during his last presentation in front of the National Assembly, Dam also proposed using “technical measures to block, filter or slow down [information] when necessary.”

The people wonder, who is then, the real Vu Duc Dam and what does he really believe in?

If there were any hopes for a progressive faction within the Communist Party, Deputy PM Dam probably would be among the top runners to lead such group.

He was a foreign-educated politician, graduated from university in Brussels, whose popularity rose among the younger population in Vietnam with his English abilities, his support for educational reforms, environmental protection, and his friendliness towards IT community and technology development.

Yet, Dam’s latest speech on the National Assembly’s floor two Fridays ago showed where his true allegiance lies: The Party’s doctrine which values censorship and putting absolute restraints on free speech.

Vietnam was a member of the Human Rights Council last year when a resolution was passed without a vote, to include an addition to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognizing the right to Internet access is a human right.

But that obviously did not stop the government to adamantly insist on tougher Cybersecurity Law, one that mirrored China’s laws. Mr. Dam apparently seems to have forgotten it as well during his latest speech, when he insisted that Vietnam would not break any international law standards with its tougher stand on social media and Internet management.

The government has recently claimed boastful records in working with Google and Facebook to successfully remove thousands of content that were deemed to be “anti-State” materials during just this year alone.

Since the Internet was first publicly introduced in Vietnam 20 years ago, now, social media networks have grown to become the main platforms for people to raise their concerns over a number of issues. Many of which would be deemed politically sensitive or even outright dissenting opinions.

No one seems to deny that both the independent civil society movement and the emerging independent media in the country are the results of ordinary people having access to the Internet.

As such, the need for an authoritarian government – like Vietnam – to censor and control the Internet and social media networks is real and urgent.

Deputy PM Dam’s recent defense of the government’s use of technical measures to censor and control the Internet and social media – to some people – adds worries that Vietnam would – by all means – pass the proposed Cybersecurity Draft Law.

To defend the government’s legitimacy and absolute power, the control over the media had never slipped off the Party’s grips. Deputy PM Dam’s stand on the issue of Cybersecurity could give glimpses of the Party’s unanimity on maintaining that control by expanding and strengthening Internet censorship in the country, regardless of how many factions within the Politburo we may think there are.

Press Release

Vietnam: Stop The Continued Harassment And Intimidation Of Our Editor, Pham Doan Trang

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Pham Doan Trang and her two books written in recent years.

March 18, 2019, The Vietnamese Magazine’s editorial board received an urgent message tonight from journalist Pham Doan Trang that the secret police have found her current residence and started to surveil the location.

Ms. Pham is a member of our editorial board and a founding member of our Vietnamese site, Luat Khoa online magazine.

From around the Tet celebration in February 2019, it had been brought to our attention that the secret police began to surveil the home of journalist Pham Doan Trang’s mother in Hanoi, Vietnam. Ms. Pham believed that the police was waiting for her to go back and visit her family during the Lunar New Year celebration so that they could arrest her like they did last year.

However, because she did not go back to Hanoi, the secret police utilized different methods, trying to locate her whereabouts.

As she recently published a book on public policy and the Special Economic Zones draft bill, they have pretended to be her readers, contacted her on social media, and asked if she could give them copies of her new book.

Those who helped deliver her books were followed, and hackers have attempted to gain access to Ms. Pham’s Facebook on numerous occasions.

Ms. Pham wrote on her personal Facebook tonight:

“If you hear, in the coming days, that I am involved in a traffic accident or suddenly got attacked somewhere, then it must be the planning and actions of the secret police. There would not be any ‘citizen actions’ that could have caused it.”

We strongly condemn the ongoing harassment and threats directed at our editorial member by the Vietnamese secret police due to the peaceful exercise of her human rights. These conducts are in direct violation of both Vietnam’s and international laws, and as such, they have put Ms. Pham in grave danger where both her physical and mental health have been negatively affected.

We, therefore, call on the relevant authorities of Vietnam to immediately intervene and cease the ongoing illegal surveillance and intimidation against Ms. Pham, investigate the unlawful individual conducts listed above, and prosecute those who have committed such crimes in accordance to the current legal standards in Vietnam.

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Vietnam Continues To Violate People’s Rights After Human Rights Dialogue With EU

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Vietnamese Anti-riot policemen. Photo credits: HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images

Less than a day after the Human Rights Dialogue between the European Union and Vietnam on March 4, 2019, was conducted, the Vietnamese police continue to commit blatant violations of the people’s rights.

Two hours ago, the police came and arrested one of the active members of a group consisting of concerned citizens who have been fighting against what they alleged as illegal activities associated with the BOT (Build-Operate-Transfer) toll booths across Vietnam.

Ha Van Nam, the victim, posted on Facebook that the police came and searched his house. Later, other Facebookers cited his wife’s statement to confirm his arrest.

Ha Van Nam was viciously beaten up by men in plainclothes back in January 2019 whom he alleged that they were plainclothes officers. He suffered two broken ribs and other injuries. The perpetrators later threw him at the front gate of Dan Phuong hospital in Hanoi.

Today, his last post on Facebook stated that the police came to his house and alleged that he committed the crime of “inciting public disorder.”

“Inciting public disorder” is a crime that has been routinely used against activists and protestors in Vietnam in the most arbitrary manner.

Often, the government would accuse anyone of committing this crime when they participate in any civil disobedience act.

Journalist Pham Doan Trang wrote on her Facebook this morning after the incident went viral on social media:

“Upon the arrest today of driver Ha Van Nam for ‘disrupting peace,’ once again, we highlight that it is time the Vietnamese government immediately decriminalizes and depoliticize civil affairs. We firmly believe that government-endorsed violence with impunity can only lead to more violence in society.”

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Freedom of expression

English Speakers In Vietnam Got A Taste Of Censorship Over An Article On Pollution

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Screen caption of the removed article on VN Express on February 21, 2019.

February 20, 2019, a few foreigners living both inside and outside of Vietnam were sharing the news that an English article published on the site VN Express was taken down before they could read it.

Some of them suspected that it was the state’s censorship or even the beginning of the enforcement of the new cybersecurity law.

As of press time, still, the link is not working.

The article was about the lone man’s trip across the country of a Vietnamese photographer, Nguyen Viet Hung, to raise awareness on marine pollution in Vietnam using what he knows best, photography.

The story of Hung was becoming quite popular in Vietnam during recent days.

He is a well-known photographer whose trip was published on social media and a few newspapers, including one that is under the ownership of the Ministry of Public Security, Cảnh Sát Toàn Cầu online (Global Police Force).

The 3,260 km long journey, dubbed “The Green Journey” on social media, was documented by Hung and his photography skills

He began his trip in August 2018.

Along the way, he was documenting the danger of improper waste disposal, especially plastic waste, and its effects on the environment.

There was an incident where Hung said he felt scared for his life when taking a picture of a truck dumping trash into the ocean because he thought the truck driver was calling more people to come over and intimidate him.

The story was well-received by the public because it raised concerns over an urgent matter that all Vietnamese people face daily: how to deal with garbage disposal in the country.

Marine pollution and pollution, in general, have gained more attention among the public because the amount of trash being disposed in Vietnam on a daily basis is quite alarming.

In 2018, Vietnamese people became even more concerned when a report placed their country among the top five ocean polluters regarding plastic waste became viral.

Like many other censored topics in Vietnam, we could never fully understand why an article suddenly becomes “unavailable” when the web link stops working.

One may suspect that it was because the story placed equal responsibility on both the people and the state for marine pollution, where the failure of the garbage disposal system in Vietnam played a significant role.

Hung said in one of the Vietnamese articles, that while at Sa Ky Harbor in Quang Ngai Province, it was impossible for him to find a garbage can. As the result, all local residents living in the area would dump their trash directly into the waters which they also use for bathing and consuming.

Regardless of the reason, Nguyen Viet Hung’s photographs bring about a reality that both the Vietnamese people and their government must face: marine pollution in Vietnam is a code red issue where drastic measures, as well as immediate behavioral changes, must happen now.

Hung had put this succinctly in the only paragraph left from the taken-down article:

The farther I went, the more I realized that the environment in general and marine environment in particular of our country are being seriously destroyed. Most people are not aware of the scale of the problem, and this should change, Hung said.

A few photographs from Nguyen Viet Hung’s trip:

Plastic rubbish filled the land near a market place in Tuy Phong, Binh Thuan Province. Photo Courtesy: Nguyen Viet Hung.

Lacking proper garbage disposal, people dumped their trash directly into the ocean. Photo courtesy: Nguyen Viet Hung.

Children were playing near a creek filled with garbage. Photo courtesy: Nguyen Viet Hung.

A child was picking up near the seashore. Photo courtesy: Nguyen Viet Hung.

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