Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Steps Up Crackdown On Internet Freedom With Proposed Social Media Regulations

Vietnam Briefing: Vietnam Steps Up Crackdown On Internet Freedom With Proposed Social Media Regulations
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, right, and the Vietnamese counterpart Ngo Xuan Lich, left, reviewing an honor guard during Shoigu’s visit to Hanoi in 2018, which aimed to boost military cooperation between the two countries. Photo: Nikkei Asia (left)/ Associated Press (right.) Graphics by The Vietnamese Magazine.

The Vietnam Briefing, which is released every Monday morning Vietnam time, looks at Vietnam’s social and political developments of the past week.

Vietnam proposes new social media regulations to take down ‘illegal content:’ Reuters sources

  • Reuters on April 21 reported based on information from people with knowledge of the matter that Vietnam is planning to adopt new regulations requiring foreign social media companies to “take down content it deems illegal within 24 hours.”
  • The move is seen as another effort by the Vietnamese authorities to crackdown on internet freedom and tighten control over online discourse in a country where the government already shows little tolerance for dissenting opinions or criticisms of the regime.
  • According to Reuters, the planned amendments to current cyber laws will require foreign media platforms to take down “illegal content and services” within the 24-hour time frame while “illegal live streams” must be blocked within three hours of notice, and content that “harms national security” must be taken down immediately.
  • Reuters sources also said that these amendments currently remain confidential and are expected to be signed into law by Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in May and become effective in July. Social media companies that fail to take down “illegal content” within the permitted time frame risk having their platforms blocked in Vietnam, the sources added.
  • Representatives from popular social media platforms in Vietnam, including Meta’s Facebook and Google-owned Youtube, declined to comment. Meanwhile, the Chinese-owned video sharing platform Tiktok told Reuters that it would comply with local laws “to ensure TikTok remains a safe space for creative expression,” adding that the company would “take down content that breaks platform guidelines.”
  • Vietnam, with a population of nearly 100 million, continues to rank among Facebook and Youtube’s top markets by user numbers and “is more profitable than many European markets,” according to Reuters sources. It is estimated that Facebook has up to 70 million users in Vietnam while Youtube has 60 million and TikTok has 20 million.
  • The new proposed regulations have raised concerns from human rights organizations that they could be used as a repressive tool to worsen the already restrictive internet environment in Vietnam.
  • “In Vietnam, social media, including Facebook, is one of the very few places for local people to express their opposition,” said Ming Yu Hah, deputy regional director of campaigns in East and Southeast Asia for Amnesty International, in the face of the threats posed by the proposed new laws.
  • “They face the risk of being imprisoned for years if their posts are deemed to violate the law,” she said, adding that such laws are “an existential threat to the freedom of expression in Vietnam.”

Vietnamese court upholds citizen journalist Le Trong Hung’s sentencing in an opaque appeals trial

  • Do Le Na, wife of the currently jailed citizen journalist Le Trong Hung, wrote on her Facebook account on April 22 that a Hanoi Court had held an appeals trial for her husband on April 19 and consequently upheld his previous sentencing of five years in prison and five years probation.
  • Most notably, Na said that the court had neither informed her nor Hung’s lawyer about the appeals trial, adding that she only learned about the court results when she went to Hanoi Detention Center No. 1 on April 22 to send some necessities to her husband while asking for the procedures regarding his visitations.
  • Na said that there was a heavy plainclothes police presence guarding her and other local activists’ houses on the date of Le Trong Hung’s appeals hearing, but that she was unsure about their motive at the time. She added that she was “surprised” and “angry” about the Vietnamese authorities’ unlawful prevention of the Hung family from attending the hearing, even though the court previously announced that it would be an open trial.

Vietnam court jails 12 people with links to a U.S.-based organization on subversion charges


  • RFA reported that a court in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City on April 18 had sentenced 12 Vietnamese to prison on charges of supporting a U.S.-based exile group classified as a “terrorist organization” by Hanoi. The convicted people’s sentencing ranges from three to 13 years in prison while their defense attorneys said the trial was flawed and that it violated legal principles.
  • Prosecutors charged the group with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the government,” under Article 109 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, for recruiting others to join the foreign-based Provisional Government of Vietnam. Defendant Tran Thi Ngoc Xuan, who received a 13-year prison term, was described by prosecutors as the most active member of the alleged plot.
  • However, attorney Nguyen Van Mieng, who defended Xuan, told RFA in an interview that standards of fairness in the trial were violated and jeopardized, given the Ho Chi Minh City court’s decision to try different defendants gathered from separate parts of the country in the same trial.
  • “This trial violated legal procedures, as it gathered nine cases from different provinces and cities and then combined them in a single trial,” Mieng said. “These 12 people had no relationship or links with each other,” he added.
  • Based in Orange County, California, the Provisional Government of Vietnam was founded in 1991 by former soldiers and refugees loyal to the South Vietnamese government, which was in power prior to 1975. At least 18 Vietnamese have been jailed in recent years for their alleged involvement with the group.

Vietnamese organizations urge UN members not to vote for Vietnam’s candidacy in Human Rights Council

  • On April 18, a group of eight Vietnamese organizations published an open letter calling for United Nations members to prevent Vietnam from joining the UN Human Rights Council for the 2023-2025 term.
  • They cited Hanoi’s opposition to the resolution to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council on April 7 and its previous abstentions to condemn Moscow’s war-waged against Ukraine as the contributing reasons for their petition.
  • According to the letter, these organizations included Vietnam Human Rights Network (Mạng Lưới Nhân Quyền Việt Nam), Defend The Defenders (Tổ Chức Người Bảo Vệ Nhân Quyền), Assembly For Democracy Of Vietnam (Họp Mặt Dân Chủ), Humanistic Socialist Party (Đảng Nhân Bản Xã Hội), The Great Viet Party (Đại Việt Quốc Dân Đảng), Vietnam Democracy Federation (Lực Lượng Dân Tộc Cứu Nguy Tổ Quốc), The Independent Journalists Association of VietNam (Hội Nhà Báo Độc Lập Việt Nam), and Vietnam Democracy Radio (Đài phát thanh Đáp Lời Sông Núi).
  • The open letter also added that the systemic violations of human rights committed by the Vietnamese government and its pro-Kremlin stance consequently made Vietnam ineligible for a role in the Human Rights Council.
  • “Before seeking membership of the Council, the Vietnamese government must improve its human rights record, strictly enforce international human rights conventions on human rights, and contribute to the international community to build a peaceful and prosperous world,” the letter said.

Vietnam expected to hold joint military training drills with Russia


  • Russian state media reported on April 19 that Russia and Vietnam, Moscow’s closest ally in Southeast Asia, are preparing to hold a joint military training exercise. They added that the initial planning meeting for the drills was held virtually between the leaders of Russia’s Eastern Military District and the Vietnamese army.
  • According to Russian state media, the two countries “agreed on the subject of the upcoming drills, specified the dates and venue for them” and “discussed issues of medical and logistic support, cultural and sports programs.” No other details were given.
  • The spokeswoman for the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry Le Thi Thu Hang confirmed on April 21 that  Vietnam’s mutual military training agenda with Russia, which is set to be named “Continental Alliance 2022,” during a press briefing and said that these activities were meant to “foster friendship and trust.”
  • Hang reiterated that Hanoi’s consistent policy of defense cooperation with other countries was only meant to “bolster friendship, solidarity, mutual trust, and understanding, for the sake of peace, cooperation and development in the region and in the world.”
  • RFA reported that Vietnamese media had remained silent on the meeting and had not reported on the proposed military exercise. Vietnamese officials were not available for comment.
  • “This is a totally inappropriate decision on Vietnam’s part,” said Carlyle Thayer, professor emeritus at the New South Wales University in Australia, and a veteran Vietnam watcher, in an interview with RFA.
  • “The U.S. is hosting a special summit with Southeast Asian leaders in May,” Thayer said. “How will the Vietnamese leader be able to look Biden in the eye given the U.S. clear stance on the Ukrainian war and the Russian invasion?” “This is not how you deal with the world’s superpower,” he added.
  • Meanwhile, Vietnam could be hit with US sanctions over its continuing military relations with Moscow under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed by the United States in 2017, writes David Hutt in The Asia Times. However, several experts noted that the chances Vietnam would get sanctioned under the CAATSA are low as the Biden administration could face a dilemma in pursuing contradictory objectives.

Vietnam arrests former coast guard chief over “embezzlement” case


  • “Vietnam’s Defense Ministry has detained a former commander of its coast guard on suspicion of embezzlement, the government said on Monday, in the latest arrest as the ruling Communist Party intensifies its long-running crackdown on graft.
  • Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Son was arrested last Wednesday along with six other senior coast guard officials for their involvement in an “embezzlement case,” the government said in a statement that did not elaborate on the alleged offense.
  • The state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper cited the Defense Ministry as saying that Son was responsible for violations committed by the coast guard between 2015 and 2020, including “financial mismanagement” and “procurement irregularities.”

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc Knapper calls for the upgrading of the Vietnam-United States relationship

  • During a press conference in Hanoi on April 20, U.S. Ambassador Marc Knapper said that the United States and Vietnam have deepened mutual cooperation on multiple strategic issues and that it is time for the two countries to upgrade their bilateral relationship from comprehensive to a strategic level.
  • “Upgrading the relationship with Vietnam to strategic partnership is a priority, not just for myself but the U.S. government,” Knapper said when he was asked by the local news agency VnExpress about what he sees as the priorities during his incumbency.
  • Meanwhile, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh will attend the U.S.-ASEAN summit in Washington D.C. from May 12 to 13 at the invitation of President Joe Biden, according to the confirmation from the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry.
  • Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang said that Vietnam “stands ready to work with the Biden administration on further strengthening and deepening bilateral relations” with an aim to promote regional and international “peace, stability, cooperation, and development.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Corruption is the Worst Enemy of the Vietnamese Army

Fulcrum/ Le Hong Hiep/ April 22

“The Vietnamese military is involved in a wide range of commercial activities, facilitated by its dominant role in Vietnamese politics. This sometimes causes civilian authorities to defer to military officials’ requests, including for resources and preferential treatments, which creates opportunities for corruption to thrive. The existence of military-owned businesses, both genuine ones and front companies set up to support intelligence gathering and operational purposes, also makes rent-seeking activities by corrupt individuals difficult to detect due to the blurred distinction between commercial and defence-related activities.”

How Does Inviting Autocrats to the White House Make Asia More Free?

The Diplomat/ John Sifton/ April 22

“The Biden administration needs to adopt more coherent principles for supporting nations in Asia without sacrificing the promotion of human rights. A key problem in the Biden administration’s Asia rhetoric is that it too often conflates human freedoms and rights with the “freedoms” and “rights” of governments not to be coerced by other governments (i.e., by the Chinese government). When Blinken in December cited a “rules-based order” in Asia meant to “protect the right of all countries to choose their own path, free from coercion, free from intimidation,” he was not talking about human freedoms. He was dressing up “countering the Chinese government” in the language of liberty.”

US-Vietnam Partnership Goes Beyond Strategic Competition with China

U.S. Institute of Peace/ Nguyễn Khắc Giang/ April 19

“U.S. rapprochement with Vietnam is more than a way to “contain” China (as if this could be done). A long-term, stable friendship should not be based solely on mutual concern about a rising regional hegemon. Washington should not only focus on economic and security partnerships but needs to support Vietnam in areas that it is lagging behind, particularly institutional reforms and the increased repression of civil society. A more democratic and open Vietnam will not only be good for the Vietnamese but a more trusted regional partner. A friendship based on shared values is much more sustainable than the one based purely on security and economic interests.”

Nuclear moves up the list of Vietnam’s power mix

Southeast Asia Globe/ Govi Snell/ April 18

“The potential scarcity of electricity comes amid discussion around what will be included in Vietnam’s eighth national power development plan, or PDP8.

Some see a turn towards nuclear energy as a long-term solution for Vietnam to meet its energy needs while reducing fossil fuels. However, building nuclear power plants in Vietnam would be an expensive and time-consuming process and public support for nuclear energy is low in the country.”

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