The police force in Ben Tre Province, Vietnam seemed to have been quite busy in the last few months, going after people’s postings on Facebook.
In January 2019, their Domestic Security Bureau took a university student in and questioned him over his Facebook’s usage, including whether he had joined a group calls “Liking BBC Vietnamese” (Thích BBC Tiếng Việt) – which the police classified as “politically hostile.”
On February 13, 2019, Vietnamnet newspaper reported that Ben Tre provincial police conducted an investigation and interrogated a 35-year-old man, Phan Chi Toan, about his Facebook’s activities under the username “Phan Rio.”
Police alleged that the Facebook account calls Phan Rio was conducting “subversion against the people’s government.”
How did he do it according to the authorities?
He did so by joining numerous groups, allegedly “politically hostile” towards the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) and the State, posting, sharing, and commenting on contents that incited demonstrations, as well as propagating to defame the policies, guidelines, and directions of the VCP and the government.
The police had not formally charged Toan with a crime but did declare that they would proceed with the case according to the regular procedures.
The same Vietnamnet’s article further mentioned that the People’s Committee of Mo Cay Bac District, also in Ben Tre Province, had fined a 55-year-old man – Dang Tri Thuc – under Government’s Decree 174/2013/ND-CP, Article 64, Section 4, for using his Facebook account to incite public demonstration in December 2018.
Accordingly, Thuc, a driver, was accused of using the live-stream feature on Facebook to make video clips, calling on others to protest on a few major road intersections on December 22 and 28. He allegedly admitted guilt, confessed and promised he would not repeat the offense, so the authorities fined him with 15M VND or approximately 650 USD.
|Decree 174/2013/ND-CP, Article 64: Violations against regulations on websites/ news websites
Section 4. A fine ranging from VND 30,000,000 to VND 50,000,000 shall be imposed for any of the following violations:
a) Propagating information against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; sabotaging the bloc of great national unity at a degree of severity which is still not liable to criminal prosecutions;
b) Propagating information with the aims of inciting war of aggression, causing hatred between ethnic groups or people of countries, inciting violence or propagating reactionary thought at a degree of severity which is still not liable to criminal prosecutions;
c) Distorting history, denying the revolutionary achievements or offending the nation, people or national heroes at a degree of severity which is still not liable to criminal prosecutions.
While the right to demonstrate is constitutionally protected in Vietnam, the government had routinely violated this right by applying their Decree 38/2005/NĐ-CP – to regulate “public gatherings – during protests to arrest the participants.
Since the nationwide mass protests broke out in June 2018 against the draft bills on the cybersecurity law and the development of three special economic zones, the security police have continued to track down those who had participated and made arrests in different cities and provinces.
The family of a woman names Doan Thi Hong from Binh Thuan Province has recently made a public plea on social media, alleging that Hong was taken into police custody by a group of plainclothes police on September 2, 2018. She was a participant in the same June 2018 protest mentioned above.
Although she has a young child under 36-month-old at the time of the arrest, which under Vietnam’s laws is a factor to consider against pre-trial detention, her sister claimed that Hong had been arbitrarily kept incommunicado since September of last year.
According to her sister, Hong was not a dissident and only exercised her right to protest that one time.
It seems that the police’s recent investigations targetting Facebook’s activities and usage in Vietnam also focus primarily on the average users and not necessarily the more well-known bloggers and dissidents.