Target: Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung
Goal: Don’t inhibit political and news-related discussion on the Internet.
A new law signed by the Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung may have the intended or unintended effect of limiting the right of individuals to engage in political discussion online. Under the guise of promoting copyright protection and combating content piracy, Decree 72 may actually be used to target Vietnamese netizens who share government-critical views over the Internet. Even without explicitly authorizing the government to punish bloggers and social media participants for voicing their opposition to the ruling Communist party’s policy, the law could expand the state surveillance of online content and enable it to persecute dissident voices under the convenient, unrelated charge of copyright violation.
While Vietnamese officials are attempting to downplay the freedom-denying ramifications of the law by merely explaining it away as an effort to prevent intellectual property violations that occur when Internet users allegedly “steal” copyrighted content originating in newspapers, government agency press releases, or other government websites, it is clear that Decree 72 aims to discourage any and all news and politics-related commentary on the Internet. (Vietnamese newspapers are either state-owned or if not, at the very least state-supervised.) The law’s strict interpretation of copyright goes beyond the commonly accepted standards in freedom-of-speech respecting countries where individuals are indeed allowed to feature direct quotes from texts they haven’t personally written as long as they cite the source. To prevent this minimal sort of content reuse would bar all online discussion based on information found in the media.
The words of Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Le Nam Thang betray that hampering online discussion of news and politics may indeed be the goal. In clarifying the decree, the minister explained that it sought to help users “find correct and clean information on the Internet.” Apparently, the government wants to impede the online publication of certain viewpoints it deems to be wrong. To put it simply: We disagree, therefore we censor–a mantra that could very well serve as a summary of the official Vietnamese newspaper Nhan Dan’s take on Decree 72. In its response to the U.S Embassy’s statement of concern about the law, the newspaper offered up a complaint about a disturbing tendency of certain Internet users to “[turn] personal blogs and Facebook into places to disseminate incorrect views, attack the party and state and organize opposition.”
Don’t allow the Vietnamese government to limit freedom of speech. Ask that the government repeal the decree by signing the petition below.
Dear Nguyen Tan Dung, Prime Minister of Vietnam,
The decree 72 that you have just signed into the law is an egregious offense against the fundamental freedom of speech. Online media, whether blogs, personal webpages, or social networks, has become a popular means of interpersonal communication over the last decade. To limit the right of individuals to cite and discuss media sources under the threat of imprisonment is a surefire way to destroy the citizens’ ability to exchange viewpoints and mutually reflect upon the political and social forces that shape their lives.
When members of a society cannot come together to discuss the issues impacting their families and communities as well as the country as a whole because of a repressive state that criminalizes the free exchange of information, they will become bitter and cynical about their views being quashed and lose all trust in a government that can’t tolerate their thoughts and ideas.
We ask you to repeal this decree for the sake of creating a society where citizens are engaged and involved in the politics of their country because they have the right to voice their dissent and contribute to the public debate as opposed to a society of apathetic subjects indifferent to the actions of the higher-ups because they will be penalized for daring to utter their opinions. Even a non-democratic regime like Vietnam can benefit from the input of its people because that’s often where the most valuable insights about how to best manage the country come from.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: JoeDuck via Flickr