Vietnam Briefing Oct. 24, 2022: Vietnam Ranked “Not Free” in Freedom House’s 2022 Internet Freedom Report

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

Vietnam Briefing Oct. 24, 2022: Vietnam Ranked “Not Free” in Freedom House’s 2022 Internet Freedom Report
Freedom House’s annual report on global Internet freedom, “Countering the Authoritarian Overhaul of the Internet,” was released on October 18 (left); UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh (center) pictured during Guterres’ visit to Vietnam on October 22 (right). Photo: Freedom House/ Bao Quoc Te.

Vietnam ranked “not free” in Freedom House’s 2022 internet freedom report

  • Vietnam only scored 22 out of 100 on internet freedom, according to Freedom on the Net 2022, an annual report by Freedom House, a Washington D.C.-based nonpartisan organization dedicated to expanding democracy and freedom around the world. The Southeast Asian state’s ranking remains unchanged compared to the previous year. The scores of analyzed countries are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free).
  • According to the key findings of the report, titled “Countering an Authoritarian Overhaul of the Internet,” and published on October 18, global internet freedom has declined for the 12th consecutive year while a large number of governments around the world are breaking up the global internet to gain more control over online spaces.
  • On the other hand, the report also notes that a record 26 countries experienced improvements in internet freedom despite a global decline last year. Meanwhile, a coalition of democratic countries is increasing the promotion of human rights at multilateral forums in response to efforts by authoritarian states to propagate their model of digital control.
  • Freedom House evaluates the state of internet freedom of each country based on three criteria: obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights. In the “obstacles to access” section, Vietnam scored 12 out of the total 25 points. It only scored six out of 35 regarding “limits on content,” and four out of 40 regarding “violations of user rights.”
  • Vietnam fares better in terms of internet penetration rate and high level of internet access for most of its population. According to data from the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC), the internet penetration rate was 71 by the end of 2021. Moreover, as of December 2021, 99.8 percent of Vietnam’s territory had a 4G signal, while 5G had been tested in 16 provinces.
  • Nonetheless, the Vietnamese government has ordered foreign media platforms to remove unfavorable content and enforced restrictions on the free flow of online content. The government has also sought to manipulate public opinion by deploying an online task force to spread propaganda and counter criticisms targeting the regime. At the same time, online critics and human rights defenders continue to be harassed, intimidated and arrested because of their social media posts.

Vietnamese land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu denied family visits twice this month

  • RFA reported that Vietnamese land rights activist Trinh Ba Tu, who is serving an eight-year sentence on “anti-State” charges, was twice denied family visitations this month. The prison authorities told Tu’s father, Trinh Ba Khiem, that his son was “being disciplined for writing false accusations,” but they did not provide any details of his writing.
  • Khiem said that he went to Nghe An Province Prison No. 6 to visit his son, but his request was denied. A correctional officer who supervises Tu’s prison area told Khiem that his son’s health was “normal.” Khiem added that he was worried about Tu’s health since, during a visit last month, he had learnt that his son had been beaten and left in solitary confinement for 10 days with his feet shackled.
  • Trinh Ba Tu was also reportedly on a hunger strike. “On September 20, Trinh Ba Tu said he had been on a hunger strike for 14 days,” Khiem said. “Since that day, I have not heard any news […], and I do not know if he has discontinued his hunger strike or not.”
  • Last month, shortly after returning from prison, Khiem filed a petition to the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security to request an investigation into his son’s beating, but he has received no response. RFA called the Nghe An prison on October 17 to verify Khiem’s claims, but no one answered the phone.

Rights groups call on the UN secretary-general to urge Vietnam to release 4 NGO leaders

  • On October 20, a coalition of 15 human rights organizations sent a joint letter to UN Secretary-General António Guterres, ahead of his visit to Vietnam on October 21, calling on him to urge Hanoi to release four environmental defenders, Nguy Thi Khanh, Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, and Bach Hung Duong, who are imprisoned on the charges of “tax evasion.” Independent observers believe that their convictions are politically motivated.
  • The letter noted that the persecution of these four environmental defenders “is only the tip of Vietnam’s broader crackdown on dissent.” Vietnam is currently imprisoning hundreds of political prisoners, with many being convicted under the vague and controversial Article 117 and Article 331 of the Penal Code.
  • Many prisoners of conscience are also “subjected to prolonged periods of incommunicado detention, and denied access to legal counsel and family visitation, often while being subjected to willful neglect or mistreatment,” the letter added. The joint letter also reminded Vietnam, recently elected to the UN Human Rights Council, that “it has an obligation to uphold the highest human rights standards.”
  • Guterres arrived in Hanoi on October 21, beginning his two-day official visit to Vietnam at the invitation of President Nguyen Xuan Phuc. The UN secretary-general met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh on October 22, with both sides emphasizing the importance of cooperation to ensure food and energy security, fight climate change, promote human rights, and develop digital technology, among other issues, according to Vietnam’s State-owned media.
  • “The UN leader wants to talk in Hanoi about climate change policies, but how can Vietnam really move forward when it is busy jailing key civil society partners who are critical to national efforts to stop global warming?” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, in an interview with RFA. “This contradiction cannot stand, and the UN needs to tell the Vietnamese government that it must end its repression of civil society organizations and NGO leaders.”

What’s Behind Vietnam’s Latest Anti-Corruption Fight


“Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong has likened his anti-graft campaign to a “blazing furnace,” one that’s caught hundreds of senior officials, business executives and others in its blast over the years. While the country’s position has improved by more than 30 spots over the past decade on a global corruption perception index, it was still at 87th place last year out of 180 ranked. Now as Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economy seeks to bolster its appeal as a destination for foreign investment in the midst of mounting trade tensions between the US and China, the fight seems to be flaring again.”

Vietnam Insight: Learn more about Vietnam

Vietnam Wants to Impose News Uniformity Even in Cyberspace – at What Cost?

Fulcrum/ Dien Nguyen An Luong/ October 19

“But in a country where public appetite for alternative news sources remains high, the move to induce news uniformity on all fronts is likely to backfire on the Vietnamese authorities. At best, it could work only for a time because tech-savvy Internet users will likely find workarounds to technological or censorship barriers.

At worst, it could fuel and perpetuate a vicious cycle. The intensification of news uniformity could further nudge an already disenchanted public towards alternative sources of information, which, while welcome, are not uniformly reliable. Too much reliance on these sources, exacerbated by the lack of trust in official narrative, could leave the public primed to believe any account criticizing the Vietnamese government. This could be so even if such criticism is not well substantiated and the state-sanctioned narrative is actually accurate.”

Doi Moi's time comes again for Vietnam

East Asia Forum/ Guanie Lim, GRIPS and Chengwei Xu, NTU/ October 18

“Much remains to be done. Economists have long urged a fresh round of economic reforms, drawing inspiration from doi moi. Despite some positive developments, growth has slowed, particularly in recent years. A renewed focus on transforming Vietnam’s productive structure is needed.

A major component of this new doi moi would involve a more drastic restructuring of the country’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). As part of Vietnam’s socialist roots, they are widely expected to spearhead the country’s industrialisation effort, especially in strategic sectors. But their performance is far from impressive, even in the post-1986 era.

Despite multiple rounds of administrative reforms, many of these SOEs remain plagued by inefficiency, mismanagement and poor export performance. Vietnam’s export revenue has been captured mainly by foreign investors. In early 2021, 76.3 per cent of exports were orchestrated by transnational corporations. Domestic business groups account for only 23.7 per cent of exports.”

Vietnam’s UN Abstention Casts Doubt on Its Commitment to Principle

The Diplomat/ Huynh Tam Sang/ October 18

“In word and deed, however, Vietnam has caught itself in a moral dilemma. On the one hand, Vietnam has underlined fundamental principles of international relations: that is, respect principles of international law, non-intervention in internal affairs, and not using force or threatening to use force in international relations. These principled commitments are in line with Vietnam’s broader stance on international relations, as stated in the Defense White Paper published in November 2019. In essence, Vietnam’s ways of addressing tensions in international affairs – for instance, its focus on international law and peaceful means of dispute resolution – are worthy of attention.”

Can Vietnam Weather the Coming Era of Great Power Competition?

The Diplomat/ John Nielsen/ October 18

Managing the rivalry between the U.S. and China will be a key challenge for Vietnam. Hanoi has reservations about Washington’s and Beijing’s strategic rivalry and will be cautious not to be caught between the two countries, while the pressure will increase. It is unlikely that Vietnam will advance a relationship with one great power at the expense of another, and due to its history and proximity to China, it is unlikely that Vietnam will enter any formal alliance aimed at countering China’s rise.

Vietnamese War Victims’ Struggle for Justice: A Tale of Two Lawsuits

The Diplomat/ Phan Xuan Dung/ October 17

“The Vietnamese government’s fervent endorsement of Agent Orange lawsuits contrasts with its silence on the case against South Korea. Vietnamese officials have not commented on Thanh’s legal actions. There is no VAVA equivalent for victims of South Korean atrocities. Instead, they have had to rely on support from South Korean civil society groups, such as the Korea-Vietnam Peace Foundation.

Vietnam stands behind Nga’s lawsuit [Agent Orange] but not Thanh’s because Agent Orange and the Korean massacres are war legacies of different sensitivity and magnitude.”

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