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Vietnam Government Claims to Work with Google and Facebook to Remove Thousands of Anti-government Content

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Vietnamese activist Anh Chi searches internet at Tu Do (Freedom) cafe in Hanoi, Vietnam August 25, 2017. Picture taken on August 25, 2017. REUTERS/Kham

Vietnam’s head of the Internet management authority, Nguyen Thanh Lam, has repeatedly claimed that the government has been working with Facebook and Google to remove thousands of videos and accounts from these tech giants’ platforms, according to the country’s mainstream media.

During a press conference on July 7, 2017, the former prominent journalist made the announcement that Youtube, a Google’s product, had removed 3,000 video clips that contained “toxic content” and Facebook had also removed 600 accounts that were fake or contained information that distorted individuals and organizations.

Among those 600 accounts are 132 accounts that frequently distorted or smeared the Communist Party, the government, groups, and individuals, VietNamNet reported.

In an interview with VietNamNet, Nguyen Thanh Lam also expressed his appreciation to Google and Facebook for their cooperation with the Vietnam’s government.

“They understand why we made such requests”, said Mr. Nguyen.

Facebook sent Monika Bickert, Head of Global Policy Management, to Vietnam on April 26 to meet with the Minister of Information and Communication Truong Minh Tuan. According to the Vietnam News Agency, Ms. Bickert told the minister that Facebook was willing to cooperate with the Vietnamese government to block toxic content that violates the local laws.

During the meeting, the Facebook’s representative also made a commitment that they would create a separate channel to process Vietnam’s requests.

A month later, Eric Schmidt, the Chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., met Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in Hanoi. He reportedly said that “Google will cooperate with the government” to prevent and remove bad information on Youtube.

Mr. Nguyen Thanh Lam noted that it had been easier to convince Youtube than Facebook: “There was toxic information that Youtube already removed or blocked but Facebook does not”.

We found no information about Vietnam’s requests in 2017 on Google Transparency Report and Facebook’s Government Requests Report, potentially because they have only released reports until 2016.

The Google’s report shows Vietnam has made five content removal requests to Google since 2010. It is not confirmed that Google has actually cooperated with the Vietnamese government to remove the mentioned contents.

However, the tech giant’s website highlights two content removal requests made by the Vietnamese government. One is a blog that “allegedly contained information about the military and criticized the government”, and one is “to remove search results on a particular word that generated results that contained allegedly unflattering depictions of past Vietnamese leaders.” Google declined both requests.

It has been 20 years since Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google. It is the same period of which Vietnam has been connected to the Internet. The country currently has approximately 50 million Internet users which amount to more than half of the population, and 45 million Facebook users. Both platforms are the most popular search engine and social network in Vietnam respectively.

Yet, the two tech giants are now considered as real threats to the government as they help people access uncensored information about the communist regime and generate political discussions.

In October 2013, Dinh Nhat Uy – the brother of a jailed activist – was sentenced to one year and three months of probation only for using Facebook to criticize the government.

A prominent human rights activist, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (Mother Mushroom), was also sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment in June 2017 partly for posting articles that “contain untruthful and baseless information” about the Communist Party and its sole-leadership over the political system of Vietnam.

The government usually uses three internationally-condemned criminal provisions, Article 79, 88 and 258, to put dissidents and activists in jail.

Not only criminalizing online expression, Hanoi also puts administrative sanctions on those who voice their dissents on the Internet. Websites’ owners, social networks, and Internet users may be fined up to US$4,700 for “criticizing the government, the Party or national heroes” or “spreading propaganda and reactionary ideology against the state”

Many Facebook users and bloggers have been fined under these regulations, according to a Freedom House’s report.

It is significant to note that the Vietnamese government has made claims about receiving cooperation from Google and Facebook since early 2017, in the middle of a new crackdown on the democracy movement that has led to at least 16 activists and dissidents being arrested or convicted.

In 2014, Vietnam was named as an enemy of the Internet by Reporters Without Borders, a France-based human rights organization.

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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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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