Article 25 of Vietnam’s most recent constitution, adopted in 2013, contains the following provisions:
“Citizens have the right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of press, access to information, assembly, association and demonstration. The use of these rights is provided by law.”
However, these freedoms, which are recognized by law, have been greatly restricted by censorship. Although citizens have this right legally, they cannot enjoy most of these rights, just like in other countries. Vietnam ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders. At the same time, Vietnam ranked 6th in the World Committee for the Protection of Journalists’s list of the top ten countries with the highest censorship.
In particular, political dissidents, acts of corruption by the Communist Party leaders, the Communist Party’s unlawful behavior, Sino-Vietnamese relations, and some issues related to human rights issues are variously banned by the Communist Party. Vietnam censors not only media outlets belonging to its own country, but also digital media such as YouTube and Facebook. It is clear that Facebook and YouTube voluntarily accept this censorship. Facebook announced in April that compliance with Vietnam’s censorship requests will increase significantly. According to the company’s latest transparency report, the number of content restrictions has increased by 983%, from 77 in the second half of 2019 to 834 in the first half of 2020. Facebook has signed agreements with the state for censorship. Youtube and Facebook highly remove all content that the government does not want.
One victim of this censorship is freelance journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh. He posted on Facebook about an alleged corruption incident in Vietnam, censored in Vietnam due to “local legal restrictions”. After Facebook announced in April that Vietnam was in the process of compliance with censorship requests, a Facebook official made a statement again in November:
“They consistently came to us with more requests for what kind of content should be censored. We said ‘no’ to them. But we received some threats of what would happen if we didn’t. The most important of these threats was the complete blocking of Facebook platform access in Vietnam.”
“While activists who previously spoke out against government abuses are likely to be targeted, the government’s long-term plan is to get the Internet, print media, and TV / radio under the same ruthless controls that affect it,” said Phil Robertson, Assistant Director of Asia Human Rights. Domestic news programs often feature calls for courtesy, government-organized conferences, positive stories about respected guests, and all-good messages, rather than texts that will criticize the government or raise community issues. Almost all local media are censored. They fear government sanctions. One of the most important things to be considered is to write the texts they publish in accordance with the directive and not to criticize the party. Criticizing the party means closing down for a newspaper.
To understand the punishment for not following the government’s orders, it is useful to look at the example of Mr. Le Van Nui, editor-in-chief of the “Tuoi Tre” newspaper. Mr. Nui published a poll during President Bill Clinton’s visit in 2000 and asked readers to rate the leaders they most admire, results show that Clinton is more popular than Ho Chi Minh (leader of the Vietnamese independence movement and Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and after this poll, Mr. Nui’s membership in the press was removed. This is a small example of how even falling second in the rankings of preference by an elite of state, although not within the scope of criticism or opposition, could be a cause of censorship in Vietnam.
Blogs opened with pseudonyms that would not be caught in the network of censors offered a way to publish news without government censorship or newspaper self-censorship. On these blogs, many local dissidents were posting anti-government and anti-communist articles that nearly led to their arrest. Anti-Vietnam Government websites hosted in the US, France and Germany enabled the publication of posts that allowed the Vietnamese exile community to unite with local dissidents while criticizing the government, however as of February 29, 2016, blogging platforms Blogger and Wordpress.com were blocked using a DNS (Domain Name System) block. This was one of the first global effects of Vietnam censorship. The government did not want to allow international platforms either. As of October 31, 2016, Twitter has also been blocked using a DNS block. One of Vietnam’s strategies to control the internet consists of arresting bloggers, active internet users, and journalists. The purpose of these arrests is to prevent dissidents from continuing their activities and to persuade others to practice self-censorship. A more dangerous and possibly more comprehensive media management mechanism in Vietnam is self-censorship. The government created this self-censorship by killing or driving dissidents. Very early in their careers, journalists firstly learn to imagine and anticipate the reaction of censorship to almost everything they produce. The accuracy of the news is the second thing to learn.
Let’s write especially risky topics one by one:
- Corruption cases
- Environmental pollution
- Stories about land disputes
- Critical reviews of major policies
- A critical study of socialist history
- Defame national heroes and socialist leaders,
- Promoting the multi-party system
- Supporting democracy
- Human rights criticism
When you deal with even one of these issues, you can either be exiled from Vietnam, jailed or killed in a nook.
On June 12, the Vietnamese National Assembly passed the controversial Cyber Security Act, despite public opposition. The new Cybersecurity Act further restricted freedom of expression, which was already limited in Vietnam, and gave police much more power to investigate and punish citizens online.
There are two particularly worrying points in the Cyber Security Act:
- The law is a long list of prohibited acts that restrict people’s right to speak out to attitudes, behaviors and those who are imposed
- By law, all digital platforms must store Vietnamese users ‘data within the country, provide users’ data on request, and remove any content that violates the law
We see that the censorship that is wanted to be done in the world has already been done in Vietnam. With this law, the police, military and other authorities are empowered to control, collect, block, terminate and investigate any online platform that poses a threat to national security. The Cyber Security Act is proof that the state has long been trying to manipulate the Internet in its own interest, as it has done with common information gathering tools such as televisions, radios and newspapers. These strategies have names in the literature: Force 47 and Friction Strategy (blocking).
It is applied to prevent or make it difficult to access information. Thousands of people send unbiased and misleading messages and make comments. This makes it difficult to distinguish between valuable information and spam, so many readers lose hope and stop searching. It mainly targets impatient and indifferent people. This method is also used by many dictators. It is an integral part of black propaganda. The source of knowledge disappears over time. Knowledge becomes blurred. It goes wrong with the right. After this stage, the dictators tell the lies they want and all the facts that reveal the lies begin to lose power. China and America are the censor countries that best practice this. The reason America is libertarian on paper is because it hides knowledge so well. Actually, this is the biggest censorship. Although the American people want to question what the truth is, it is very difficult for them to reach that truth. If there are really many lies somewhere, the lies become reality.
FRICTION STRATEGY (BLOCKING)
This method is a comprehensive blocking of the major firewall. Almost all international news sources such as Google, Facebook, Wikipedia are banned or internet pages take too long to load. You can imagine a web page loading in 10 minutes. This method is all about harassing people.
There are some government regulatory agencies in Vietnam. The media system is regulated by two main regulatory agencies: Ministry of Information and Communication and Central Propaganda and Education Commission.
The Ministry of Information and Communication mainly manages the legal, technical and economic aspects of media companies. It imposes sanctions on companies that do not enforce the rules. The Central Propaganda and Education Commission, which operates directly under the Communist Party, is the most important media censorship that has made great efforts to keep media practitioners attached to the party’s agenda, despite extensive changes in media technology and economy. Traditional dictatorial attitudes prevail in these institutions.
These censorship approaches even spread to the streets of Vietnam. Even local newspapers were denied freedom. In January, the Ministry of Culture and Information (MoCI) ordered the police to seize and destroy banned publications. On January 16, more than seven tons of books, including pornographic magazines, books published abroad, and books written by Vietnamese dissidents, were burned in Ho Chi Minh City. In July, authorities in Hanoi destroyed 40,780 compact discs, 810 videotapes, 3,000 books, and six kilograms of other publications, including pornography and foreign-printed books. Two editions of the Far Eastern Economic Review, published in Hong Kong, were banned in Vietnam: The July edition about a major corruption scandal and an August edition that reviewed Ho Chi Minh’s biography and talked about the leader’s alleged love affairs. In June, the prime minister instructed MoCI to tighten controls on Vietnam’s four thousand public Internet cafes to prevent customers from accessing state secrets, pornography and reactionary documents. Authorities destroyed thousands of banned broadcasts, restricted media coverage of a major corruption scandal, increased internet monitoring, blocked general public access to international television programs broadcast via satellite, and arrested or detained opponents using the internet or other public forums. The government blocked nearly two thousand websites, including the websites of Vietnam opposition groups overseas. A 2010 law required public Internet providers such as Internet cafes, hotels, and businesses that provide free Wi-Fi to install software to track users’ activities.
In addition to the decisions to restrict the mass media, art was tried to be controlled by censorship in Vietnam like every government that realized the power of art. Actors, theater directors, and playwrights self-censor before the stage, which is already reviewed by a censorship agency before all plays. On the cinema side, we see Vietnam in Netflix’s list of countries with the most intervention to content. For example, in 2017 Netflix removed Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket film about the Vietnam War from its Vietnam service to comply with the request of the Vietnam Broadcasting and Electronic Information Corporation. In this film about the emotional and intellectual evolution of an American soldier, the humiliating conversations between American soldiers about Vietnam and insulting Ho Chi Minh are the main reasons for this censorship. Actors are also sanctioned for acting in films deemed inappropriate by the government. In September, the government confiscated the passport of Vietnamese actor Don Duong, who was accused by the state media as a “servant of enemy forces” for role in two American movies banned in Vietnam.
Non-revolutionary or non-freedom themes photography and art exhibitions are rare in exhibitions. Restrictions on the freedom of assembly of the people who want to sound all these restrictions remain a problem in Vietnam.As of 2017, Vietnam held more than 100 political prisoners for criticizing the government and joining religions, protests, activism or political parties not approved by the government. According to Human Rights Watch, the government of Vietnam is increasing the crackdown on dissidents, human rights activists and independent journalists ahead of the Vietnam Communist Party’s 13th party congress in January 2021. The court also increased the prison sentences of the detained dissidents.
Censorship is now a necessity that Vietnamese see wherever they look: On social media, art, television and the internet, wherever information can be obtained and in all channels where you can defend your rights.
The fact that the Communist Party, the only party in the country, restricts its leaders’ acts of corruption, the legitimacy of the party and issues such as human rights, actually explains why censorship is so widespread. The entire administrative level of the country is corrupt and corruption is very high.
Censorship is the most dangerous weapon used by all dictators in our age. Curiosity and perseverance are the worst enemies of censorship.