Freedom on the Net

Freedom on the Net 2016

Vietnam

Country Profile

Status: 
Not Free
Image Graph showing the Selected Country Flag

Internet Freedom Scores

(Freedom on the Net Score:
0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Population: 
91.7 million
Internet Penetration: 
53 percent
Social Media/ICT Apps Blocked: 
Yes
Bloggers/ICT Users Arrested: 
Yes
Press Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Key Developments: 
  • Prosecutions of ICT users fell during Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but three bloggers were sentenced the month after the agreement was signed (see Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).
  • Facebook and Instagram were sporadically blocked in May 2016 to curb environmental protests organized online (see Blocking and Filtering).
  • Authorities administered fines and disciplinary warnings for critical content online (see Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation).
  • A cybersecurity law passed in November 2015 could undermine privacy and encryption (see Surveillance, Privacy, and Anonymity).
Introduction: 

The internet freedom environment saw no overall change in 2016. In January, the 12thVietnamese Communist Party (VCP) congress took place in an atmosphere that appeared unsettled in contrast to previous, more carefully choreographed congresses. Rumours and manipulated information spread on social media for weeks in advance, leading observers to anticipate a power reshuffle. In the end, 71-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong, a leader of the party’s old guard, was re-elected as party chief and leader of the country.1 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement among twelve Pacific Rim countries, including Vietnam, went through intensive negotiations during the coverage period of this report, and was finally signed in February. Vietnam, which has successfully negotiated trade deals with the European Union and South Korea in the past, expects that the deal will open access to developed markets for its goods and boost ties with the United States to balance its relationship with China.

The government may have tried to keep the number of political arrests and trials to a minimum while it faced heightened scrutiny during TPP negotiations. Arrests for online activity declined in comparison to past years, and high profile bloggers like Nguyen Quang Lap and Ta Phong Tan were released from prison, reducing the number of jailed internet users from 29 in December 2014 to 15 a year later.2 Yet repression of critical netizens remained severe. In March 2016, the month after the TPP agreement was finalized, three bloggers who had been detained without trial since 2014 were sentenced to between three and five years in prison each. 

Obstacles to Access:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Although internet is widely available in cities, access can be sporadic in rural areas. The quality of access is improving, yet remains poor by global standards. Investment is needed to improve access speeds, and the infrastructure is vulnerable to physical damage. The telecom market is dominated by a few players, most of them state or military-owned, lacking fairness and autonomy by international standards.

Availability and Ease of Access

Internet penetration grew from 48 to 53 percent in 2015, according to an International Telecommunication Union estimate.3

Despite incremental improvement, the quality of access remains poor. Internet speeds were among the lowest in the Asia Pacific, ranking 17th in the region, according to one study, and 102nd in the world.4 Akamai reported average connection speeds of 5 Mbps in early 2016.5

While there has been a surge in the number of subscribers, fixed broadband remains a relatively small market segment. Fixed broadband services have been largely based on DSL technology; more recently, faster fiber-based broadband services are starting to replace it, with FttH subscriptions overtaking DSL subscriptions for the first time in November 2015.6

Mobile broadband has been a more significant factor in increasing access to faster internet service. Mobile broadband penetration was more than four times that of fixed broadband by 2015 (34 percent compared to 8 percent). 7 Mobile penetration was reported at 130 percent in 2015.8 By March 2015, 52 percent of Vietnamese mobile subscribers used smartphones. 9

The 3G network operating since 2009 is growing fast. As of March 2015, Vietnam had 29.3 million 3G users, up from 15.7 million in 2012.10 In 2015 the Ministry of Information and Communication was preparing for the introduction of the faster 4G network. The regulator authorized operators to launch trial 4G LTE networks, though its use has not been commercialized, and spectrum has yet to be licensed. 11

Restrictions on Connectivity

While several companies have licenses to build infrastructure, the state-owned Viet Nam Post and Telecommunications Corporation (VNPT) and military-owned Viettel dominate the country's telecommunications sector.

Three out of four providers servicing Internet Exchange Points (IXP), which allocate bandwidth to service providers, are state- or military-owned (VNPT, Viettel, and SPT; the fourth, FPT, is private).12 Although this suggests a concerning degree of state influence over the internet architecture, authorities in Vietnam did not employ noticeable throttling or restrict access to the internet for political reasons during the coverage period of this report. Research published in 2014 indicated that mobile operators may throttle over-the-top communications applications which represent a threat to their own, paid services,13 though this is difficult to confirm, and the services were accessible and popular in 2015 and 2016.

In early 2015, the Asia-America Gateway (AAG) submarine cable, one of several which carry international traffic, was damaged twice, significantly impairing the speed and quality of access.14 No similar incident was reported during the coverage period of this report.

ICT Market

The three biggest internet service providers (ISPs) are VNPT, which controls 51 percent of the market; Viettel (40 percent); and the private FPT (6 percent).15 Though any firm is allowed to operate an ISP, informal barriers prevent new companies without political ties or economic clout from disrupting the market. In the mobile sector, Viettel commands 40 percent of mobile subscriptions; MobiFone and Vinaphone rank second and third with 21 percent and 20 percent, respectively.16 Smaller players which lack infrastructure to provide quality service and coverage, like Vietnamobile and Gmobile, struggle to compete.17

Regulatory Bodies

The Vietnam Internet Network Information Center (VNNIC), an affiliate of the Ministry of Information and Communications, is responsible for managing, allocating, supervising, and promoting the use of internet domain names, IP addresses, and autonomous system numbers (ASN). Three additional ministries—information and culture (MIC), public security (MPS), and culture, sport, and tourism (MCST)—manage the provision and usage of internet services. On paper, the MCST regulates sexually explicit and violent content, while the MPS oversees political censorship. In practice, however, guidelines are issued by the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) in a largely non-transparent manner.

Limits on Content:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

Political content on a range of sensitive topics is restricted online, especially in Vietnamese. Blogging and social media platforms are widely available, though Facebook was apparently briefly blocked in May 2016 in response to protests. Decree 174 has been widely used to levy harsh fines for government criticism online since it was introduced in 2015. Additionally, Circular 09, issued in October 2014, requires website owners to immediately take down content at the request of authorities, resulting in increased self-censorship. In 2013, the government officially acknowledged using paid commentators, who have since grown in number and continue to manipulate online content.

Blocking and Filtering

Access to Facebook and Instagram appears to have been interrupted for a couple of days after hundreds of people protested against an environmental disaster in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in May 2016. Demonstrators criticized a Taiwanese steel plant they held responsible for millions of fish washing up dead along the central coast, and the government for failing to respond to the crisis. The mainstream media failed to cover the rallies, adding to Facebook’s importance as a means of sharing information and organizing public events (see Digital Activism). Operators of at least three tools used to circumvent blocking reported a dramatic spike in the number of their Vietnamese users on May 15, coinciding with reports that social media platforms were inaccessible and indicating that the platforms had been blocked.18 Some mobile users also reported that they were unable to send SMS messages about the rallies. Facebook has been blocked for long periods in the past, but this was one example of temporary, more targeted blocking that suggests censorship is becoming more agile. At the end of the coverage period, both platforms were available with no reports of interruption.

With fewer resources devoted to online content control than in China, the Vietnamese authorities have nevertheless established an effective content filtering system. Censorship is implemented by ISPs rather than at the backbone or international gateway level. Specific URLs are generally identified for censorship and placed on blacklists. Censorship targets high-profile blogs or websites with many followers, as well as content considered threatening to Communist Party rule, including political dissent, human rights and democracy, as well as websites criticizing the government’s reaction to border and sea disputes with China.

Content promoting organized religion such as Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, and the Cao Dai group, which the state considers a potential threat, is blocked to a lesser but still significant degree. Websites critical of the government are generally inaccessible, whether they are hosted overseas, such as Human Rights Watch, Talawas, Dan Luan, U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese-language site, and Dan Chim Viet, or domestically, like Dan Lam Bao, Dien Dan Xa Hoi Dan Su, or Bauxite Vietnam.

ISPs use different techniques to inform customers of their compliance with blocking orders. While some notify users when an inaccessible site has been deliberately blocked, others post an apparently benign error message.

Content Removal

The party’s Department for Culture and Ideology and the Ministry of Information and Culture (MIC) regularly instruct online outlets to remove content they perceive as problematic, through nontransparent, often verbal orders. Their instructions cover social as well as political content. On November 25, 2015, MIC officials ordered local media production company Monday Morning Ltd. Co. to stop producing episodes of the YouTube celebrity gossip series “Bitches in Town,” for using offensive language and causing public outrage.19 After the producers sent an explanation to the MIC, the show restarted.

Other entities with financial and political influence may exert control over online content or discourage free expression. In February 2016, online reports of inadequate animal welfare at a safari on Phu Quoc island in southern Vietnam, led to a Facebook campaign questioning the importation and treatment of wild animals. The Vinpearl safari is operated by Vingroup, one of the country’s biggest conglomerates. Shortly afterward, Facebook users who had previously discussed the issue temporarily deactivated their accounts, and a Facebook page administrator posted that they had to stop reporting on the case “for security reasons,” according to the BBC Vietnamese service, leading observers to believe that they feared reprisals from Vingroup or its supporters.20 Vingroup denied reports that thousands of animals had died at the park and workers had quit in protest.21

Intermediary liability has long been implied in Vietnam, but was formalized in 2013 with Decree 72 on the Management, Provision, Use of Internet Services and Internet Content Online. It requires intermediaries—including those based overseas—to regulate third-party contributors in cooperation with the state, and to “eliminate or prevent information” prohibited under Article 5. It holds cybercafe owners responsible if their customers are caught surfing “bad” websites. This process was articulated in Circular 09/2014/TT-BTTTT, issued in October 2014, which requires website owners to eliminate “incorrect” content “within three hours” of its detection or receipt of a request from a competent authority in the form of email, text message, or phone call. The circular also tightened procedures for registering and licensing new social media sites. Among other requirements, the person responsible for the platform should have a university or higher degree. It also requires Vietnamese companies who operate general websites and social networks, including blogging platforms, to locate a server system in Vietnam and to store posted information for 90 days and certain metadata for up to two years.22 It is not clear how much service providers removed content for fear of possible reprisals before the decree was introduced, so its immediate impact was not possible to gauge. Further, it did not outline penalties for non-compliance or enforcement measures.

Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation

Internet content producers face a range of pressures that affect the quality of online information. All content needs to pass through in-house censorship before publication. In weekly meetings, guidelines handed out by a Party Committee to editors dictate areas and themes to report on or suppress, as well as the allowed depth of coverage. Editors and journalists also risk post-publication sanctions including imprisonment, fines, disciplinary warnings, and job loss (see Intimidation and Violence).

Decree 174, effective since January 2014, introduced administrative fines of up to VND 100 million (US$4,700) for anyone who “criticizes the government, the Party or national heroes” or “spreads propaganda and reactionary ideology against the state” on social media.These fines can be applied for offenses not serious enough to merit criminal prosecution. The decree outlined additional fines for violations related to online commerce.

In 2015, the Ministry of Information and Communications reported imposing a total of over VND 1.5 billion ($70,000) in fines in 33 cases of administrative violations committed by press agencies, and VND 777 million ($38,000) in 18 cases involving violations of rules governing the provision and use of information on the internet.23

The practice of issuing administrative fines for online content was not without controversy. In November 2015, the local government in southwestern An Giang province fined a secondary school teacher VND 5 million ($220) for describing the provincial chairman as “arrogant” on Facebook. Two other individuals were fined and received disciplinary warnings from the Party for “liking” and sharing the post. The incident became a national event, attracting dozens of media representatives to press conferences. Finally, the People’s Committee of An Giang ordered its Department of Information and Communication to withdraw the fines.24 Following the case, Minister of Information and Communication Nguyen Bac Son reminded internet users that social media posts speaking ill of, or spreading false information about another person, would be subject to fines or prosecution.25 The same month, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the internet should be "clean and pure" and called on internet users in Vietnam to be more "responsible."26

These economic and social penalties, in addition to the risk of criminal prosecution, foster self-censorship. The unpredictable and nontransparent ways in which topics become prohibited make it difficult for users to know what might be off-limits, and bloggers and forum administrators routinely disable commenting functions to prevent controversial discussions.

The government has also taken steps to manipulate public opinion online. In 2013, Hanoi's head of propaganda Ho Quang Loi was the first official who admitted that the communist regime employs a Chinese-style system of Internet moderators to control news and manipulate opinion. He revealed the city has a 900-strong team of "internet polemicists" or "public opinion shapers" who are tasked with spreading the party line. The "teams of experts" had set up some 18 websites and 400 online accounts to monitor and direct online discussions on everything from foreign policy to land rights, he said at the time. 27

Organized campaigns involving political content appeared to be ongoing in 2015 and 2016. In one case Mai Khoi, a singer who ran for the National Assembly as an independent member, said her Facebook account had been disabled twice during her campaign. She suspected that individuals aligned with the security forces reported her account to Facebook for violating security guidelines in order to silence her.28

In the past, some blogs have published anonymous criticism of high-profile party members. These include Quan Lam Bao in 2013, or Chan Dung Quyen Luc (“Portrait of Power”) in 2014. The identity of the authors has never been verified, but their use of documents, audio, and video footage caused observers to speculate they were published by politicians using inside information to try to damage rivals. As such, critics say, they contribute little to the cause of freedom of expression.

Although government-run media continue to dominate, new domestic online outlets and social media sites are expanding the traditional media landscape. Young educated Vietnamese are increasingly turning to blogs, social media, and other online news sources over state TV and radio. 29 While some important alternative blogs have stopped operating following the prosecution of their owners, like Que Choa in 2014, new Facebook pages and other sites continue to emerge. In August 2015, independent broadcaster Conscience TV began producing YouTube videos on human rights issues in Vietnam. Police in Hanoi interrogated seven people for several hours about the content in September, and a dissident lawyer involved in the project was arrested in December (See Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities).30

In October 2015, the government opened an official Facebook page to provide timely information about the government and the prime minister.31 Other government agencies, such as the Ministry of Health or the Hanoi People’s Committee have also started to reach out to citizens on Facebook, apparently signaling a shift away from the perception of such platforms as oppositional, towards more digital engagement for propaganda purposes.

Tools for circumventing censorship are well known among younger, technology-savvy internet users in Vietnam, and many can be found with a simple Google search.32

Digital Activism

Digital mobilization is local rather than national in scale, compared to some other countries in Asia. In May 2016, the mass deaths of fish in central coastal provinces sparked a wave of protest on Facebook, which led to street rallies in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City demanding more transparency from the government. The protest proved to be a challenge to the government on how to deal with crisis. Since mainstream media failed to cover the protests, Facebook became the platform for news, petitions, rallies, and other forms of social activism,33 so much so that it was apparently blocked when the protests were at their peak (see Blocking and Filtering).

In March 2015, a Hanoi government plan to remove thousands of trees lining the city’s thoroughfares spawned outrage on Facebook in a campaign which gathered 20,000 supporters in 24 hours, some of whom speculated that officials were motivated by the chance of selling the valuable timber. Authorities reversed the plan later that month, after a rare protest where residents took to the streets following several online campaigns by different social groups.34 The previous year, a plan to build a cable car near the UN-recognized world-heritage site Phong Nha-Ke Bang was also stalled by Facebook critics whose page amassed over 33,000 likes, and a petition of over 71,000 signatures.35

Violations of User Rights:
(Freedom on the Net Score: 0=Most Free, 100=Least Free)

The interrogation, imprisonment, and physical abuse of bloggers and online activists continued during the coverage period, with 15 behind bars, even though the government may have been trying to keep the number of political arrests and trials to a minimum in 2015 in the context of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. New revisions to the penal code passed in November 2015 included several harsh provisions penalizing legitimate online activity, though have yet to be implemented.

Legal Environment

The constitution, amended in 2013, affirms the right to freedom of expression, but in practice the VCP has strict control over the media. Legislation, including internet-related decrees, the penal code, the Publishing Law, and the State Secrets Protection Ordinance, can be used to fine and imprison journalists and netizens. The judiciary is not independent, and trials related to free expression are often brief, and apparently predetermined. Police routinely flout due process, arresting bloggers and online activists without a warrant or retaining them in custody beyond the maximum period allowed by law.

Articles 79, 88, and 258 of the penal code are commonly used to prosecute and imprison bloggers and online activists for subversion, antistate propaganda, and abusing democratic freedoms. Though the law was in effect for the duration of the coverage period, Vietnam’s National Assembly amended the penal code on November 27, 2015.36 Under the amended law, Article 79, “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” became Article 109, and Article 88, “making, storing, disseminating or propagandizing materials and products that aim to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” became Article 117.37 The clauses newly criminalized preparing to commit those crimes with penalties of one to five years in prison. Article 258, which punishes “abuse of democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and citizens,” became Article 330. The amendments were supposed to become effective on July 1, 2016 butt it was postponed for further revision.38

Since 2008, a series of regulations have extended controls on traditional media content to the online sphere. Decree 97 ordered blogs to refrain from political or social commentary and barred them from disseminating press articles, literary works, or other publications prohibited by the Press Law. In 2011, Decree 02 gave authorities power to penalize journalists and bloggers for a series of infractions, including publishing under a pseudonym.39 Decree 72 on the Management, Provision, Use of Internet Services and Internet Content Online replaced Decree 97 in 2013, expanding regulation from blogs to all social media networks. Article 5 prohibits broad categories of online activity including “opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” inciting violence, revealing state secrets, and providing false information.

A cybersecurity law passed in November 2015 and came into effect on July 1, 2016 (see Surveillance, Privacy and Anonymity).40

Prosecutions and Detentions for Online Activities

Vietnam released 14 bloggers and activists under pressure from the US in 2014 and 2015, in the midst of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), according to Human Rights Watch.41 Bloggers released from prison were not pardoned. In one case, a fine was still outstanding.42 Another was escorted to the airport, and will serve her full sentence if she returns from exile.43

Although this significantly reduced the number of individuals detained in Vietnam for online activity, which Reporters Without Borders documented as 29 in December 2014,44 there was no improvement in the overall environment for freedom of expression online. General Tran Dai Quang, the public security minister, told the National Assembly in November 2015 that his forces had “received, arrested, and dealt with” 1,410 cases involving 2,680 people who violated national security since June 2012, a category that includes critics of the government, according to Human Rights Watch.45 He did not provide details of individual cases, so the number of cases involving online activity remains unknown.

At least 15 bloggers and activists were still jailed at the end of 2015.46 Some were tried and sentenced during the coverage period, though long after the legal time limit for detention without trial had expired. Nguyen Huu Vinh, who ran the well-known independent blog Anh Ba Sam, was arrested along with his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy in May 2014 under Article 258 of the penal code. Suspects charged under Article 258 (2) can initially be held in pre-trial detention for up to six months, and for a further 90 days following indictment.47 Yet both were held for more than 22 months before a court in Hanoi sentenced them to five and three years in prison, respectively, in March 2016.48 Anh Ba Sam was blocked in Vietnam in 2016, but still accessible for users of circumvention tools, though it no longer posts original content.

In a separate trial in March, blogger Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, also known under the pen name Nguyen Ngoc Gia, was sentenced by a court in Ho Chi Minh City to four years in prison for publishing anti-state propaganda online. He was first arrested in December 2014.49

During the coverage period, several prominent activists were jailed for peaceful dissent, though not directly for their digital activity. In December, the police arrested prominent rights campaigner Nguyen Van Dai and charged him with “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the penal code.50 The lawyer and activist was involved with YouTube broadcaster Conscience TV,51 although the charges against him involved organizing meetings.52

Separately, in December 2015 two men aged 21 and 23 were sentenced to six months’ imprisonment each by a court in the northern city of Hai Phong, four months after they were detained; they had publicized how to avoid traffic checkpoints on Facebook, according to Voice of America.53

Surveillance, Privacy, Anonymity


Limited information is available about advanced surveillance technology available to Vietnamese authorities. In 2013, Citizen Lab, a research group based in Canada, identified FinFisher software on servers in 25 countries worldwide, including Vietnam. Promoted by United Kingdom-based distributor Gamma International as a suite for lawful intrusion and surveillance, FinFisher offers the power to monitor communications and extract information from other computers without permission, such as contacts, text messages, and emails. Citizen Lab noted that the presence of such a server did not prove who was running it, though it is marketed to governments.

Decree 72 requires providers like social networks to “provide personal information of the users related to terrorism, crimes, and violations of law” to “competent authorities” on request, but lacks procedures or oversight to discourage intrusive registration or data collection. It also mandates that companies maintain at least one domestic server “serving the inspection, storage, and provision of information at the request of competent authorities.” The decree gave users themselves the ambiguous right to “have their personal information kept confidential in accordance with law.” Implementation is at the discretion of ministers, heads of ministerial agencies and governmental agencies, the provincial People’s Committees, and “relevant organizations and individuals,” leaving anonymous and private communication subject to invasion from almost any authority in Vietnam. During the coverage period, “correspondence from the Saigon Post and Telecommunications Service Corporation” was the basis of Nguyen Dinh Ngoc’s indictment for disseminating antigovernment propaganda; he was charged under Article 88 of the penal code.54

The Law on Information Security passed in November 2015 and came into effect on July 1, 2016, introducing some cybersecurity protections.55 In more troubling provisions, the law allows the sharing of users’ personal information without consent at the request of competent state agencies (Article 17.1.c), mandates that authorities be given decryption keys on request, and introduces licensing requirements for tools that offer encryption as a primary function, threatening anonymity.56

Real-name registration is not required to blog or post online comments, and many Vietnamese do so anonymously. However, Vietnamese authorities do monitor online communication and dissident activity. Cybercafe owners are required to install software to track and store information about their clients’ online activities, and citizens must also provide ISPs with government-issued documents when purchasing a home internet connection.57 In late 2009, the MIC requested all prepaid mobile phone subscribers to register their ID details with the operator and limited each to three numbers per carrier. As of 2016, however, the registration process is not linked to any central database and could be circumvented using a fake ID. Pay-per-use, SIM cards, can be easily purchased without IDs.

Intimidation and Violence

In addition to imprisonment, bloggers and online activists have been subjected to physical attacks, job loss, severed internet access, travel restrictions, and other rights violations. In 2015, at least 40 bloggers and rights activists were beaten by plain-clothes agents, according to Human Rights Watch.58

Not all of those assaults were in direct reprisal for online activity, though many targets of violence were known to the authorities because of their blogging and digital activism. In July 2015, Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, a blogger who writes under the name “Mẹ Nấm,” said police in the southern city of Nha Trang hit her in the face and detained her during a public demonstration in support of political prisoners.59 She was released without charge.

In September 2015, police in Hanoi detained seven staff members of Conscience TV for several hours as part of a sustained campaign of harassment that included home searches and traffic stops (see Media, Diversity, and Content Manipulation). Other activists, including blogger Doan Trang, reported being harassed outside the police station when they demanded their release.60

Journalists for traditional media outlets faced reprisals for Facebook posts in 2015 and 2016. On June 20, 2016, just outside the coverage period of this report, an announcement on the MIC website said the ministry had revoked press credentials for Mai Phan Loi, head of Hanoi bureau of the HCMC Law Newspaper, on grounds he had insulted the military. Loi had discussed the crash of a Vietnamese maritime patrol aircraft in a journalists’ group on Facebook the previous week. The post asked why the plane had “exploded into pieces.”61 On June 21, Minister of Information and Communication Truong Minh Tuan warned that journalists should be considerate when using social networks. 62

In a separate incident, in September 2015, journalist Do Van Hung from the state-run Thanh Nien newspaper was dismissed from his post as the editorial office’s deputy general secretary and later had his press card revoked by the Ministry of Information and Communications. Though the media did not publicize the official reason behind this decision, it was widely reported online that Hung was punished for a September 2 Facebook post coinciding with Vietnam’s national day celebrations. The post satirized the August revolution which preceded Vietnam’s 1945 declaration of independence from France, and leaders such as Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap.63

Technical Attacks

Activists in Vietnam and abroad have been the target of systematic cyberattacks. When activity was first documented in 2009, the attackers used Vietnamese-language programs to infect computers with malicious software to carry out distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on blogs and websites perceived as critical of the government. Google estimated that “potentially tens of thousands of computers” were affected, but Vietnamese authorities took no steps to find or punish the attackers.

Activists today are subject to account takeovers, where spear-phishing emails disguised as legitimate content carry malware which can breach the recipient’s digital security to access private account information. In 2013, attackers seized control of a handful of important alternative blogs, including websites Anh Ba Sam, Que Choa, and blogs written by activists Xuan Dien, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, and others. It is common for sites to post a list of alternative URLs in case the current one is hacked.

Starting in 2013, attacks using malware to spy on journalists, activists and dissidents became more personal. California-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Associated Press journalists reported receiving infected emails inviting them to human rights conferences or offering academic papers on the topic, indicating that the senders are familiar with the activities and interests of the recipients. According to EFF’s analysis, the detection rate for the malware is very low - only one anti-virus vendor out of a possible 47 could detect it as of January 2014. In 2015, targeted, personalized attacks were reported by several internet professionals in Vietnam. While they did not receive the same publicity in 2016, they are believed to continue at the same rate. 

Notes: 

1 Nguyen Manh Hung, “A Post-Mortem of Vietnam’s Communist Party Congress” Cogitasia, February 2, 2016 http://bit.ly/21z0peU.

2 “Đình chỉ điều tra đối với nhà văn Nguyễn Quang Lập” <Stop investigation against writer Nguyen Quang Lap>, Nguoi Do Thi, October 20 2015, http://bit.ly/1XXoqqA.“Well-known blogger freed but 15 other citizen-journalists still held”, Reporters Without Borders, September 22 2015, http://bit.ly/1OOGmkD

3 International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000-2015,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY.

4 “Vietnam’s Internet speed ranks 102nd in the world”, VietnamNet, December 12, 2015, http://bit.ly/1QjnSsn

5 https://www.akamai.com/us/en/multimedia/documents/state-of-the-internet/akamai-state-of-the-internet-report-q1-2016.pdf?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiTldJek0yVTNPVEV6T0RZeiIsInQiOiJiOHFGMVdoMExqb1wvRDNMbW1HdUFxOTRpRFN5NmxDUGxUTERuM2puK0xrWk5kbUNoXC9yTkJ1R0hEUWE1QUZnU0hzMW5FbkRscGJEU2FHdnh3bVwvYjdnK3VYMGJTZkc3bk9ZcmRLd0J1Y3lVYz0ifQ%3D%3D

7 “Vietnam - Telecoms Infrastructure, Operators, Regulations - Statistics and Analyses”, Buddle, August 2015, http://bit.ly/1Lt7kPq

8 International Telecommunication Union, “Mobile-cellular subscriptions,” http://bit.ly/1cblxxY.

9 Ibid

10 Ibid

11 “Tại sao iPhone, iPad ở Việt Nam chưa dùng được 4G?” <Why 4G still has not been used on iPhone, iPad in Vietnam”, Thanh Nien Online, December 20, 2015, http://bit.ly/1QjohL.

12 MIC http://bit.ly/1oVnHuy

13 Open Technology Fund, Radio Free Asia, “Internet Access and Openness: Vietnam 2013,” June 2014, https://www.opentech.fund/sites/default/files/attachments/otf_vietnam_report_final.pdf.

14 “Tại sao cáp quang biển AAG tại Việt Nam hay bị đứt?” <Why submarine cable AAG in Vietnam was often damaged>, Thanh Nien Online, June 07, 2015, http://bit.ly/1TNUhcK.

15 Viettel dẫn đầu về di động, VNPT chiếm lĩnh thị phần Internet băng rộng,” [Viettel leads in mobile, VNPT gains in broadband market] ICT News, October 27, 2014 http://bit.ly/1YYnsfA.

16 “VNPT, Viettel rule telecoms market”, VietnamNews, September 2013, http://bit.ly/1oLDStB.

17 “Viettel dominates Vietnam’s mobile market with $2bn profit in 2015”, Tuoi Tre, December 30, 2015,

http://bit.ly/1ID8qHk.

18 Sarah Perez “Facebook blocked in Vietnam over the weekend due to citizen protests” , TechCrunch, May 17, 2016 http://tcrn.ch/28KKrG2.

19 “'Những kẻ lắm lời' bị yêu cầu tạm ngừng vì xúc phạm người khác” < “Bitches in Town” was required to stop for offending others>, Tuoi Tre, November 25, 2015 http://bit.ly/1MhXdgL;

20 “Safari Phú Quốc ‘chưa nhập tê giác’” <Phu Quoc Safari “not imported rhinos yet”>, BBC Vietnamese, February 27, 2016, http://bbc.in/1Tkwnaw

“Safari Phú Quốc ‘nên minh bạch’” <Phu Quoc Safari ‘should be transparent”> BBC Vietnamese February 26, 2016, http://bbc.in/1LL7koS.

21 “Reports of mass animal deaths at Vietnam safari zoo are false: authorities,” Tuoi Tre News, February 24, 2016, http://tuoitrenews.vn/society/33384/reports-of-mass-animal-deaths-at-vietnam-safari-zoo-are-false-authorities.

22 Mong Palatino, “Corporate Critics Say Vietnam's New Tech Regulations Are Bad for Business,” Global Voice Advocacy, November 3, 2014, http://bit.ly/1LtKLK4.

23 “VND1.5 billion fines imposed on press agencies in 2015”, VietnamNet, December 31, 2015, http://bit.ly/1Tk2JCf.

24 “Chê Chủ tịch tỉnh ‘kênh kiệu’ trên Facebook: ‘Chúng tôi xử phạt không sai” <Criticising Provincial Chairman “cocky” on Facebook: ‘Our fine was not wrong,” Thanh Nien online,. http://bit.ly/1MtVdwN.

25 “Social media abuse unlawful: Minister”, VietnamNet, November 11, 2015, http://bit.ly/1XXJe1k.

26 “Vietnam promises 'favorable conditions' for Internet firms like Google, Facebook”, Thanh Nien News, November 21, 2015, http://bit.ly/1SSD92V.

27 “Vietnam's propaganda agents battle bloggers online”, Bangkok Post, January 19, 2013, http://bit.ly/1L21XH8

28 Matthew Clayfield, “Vietnam's National Assembly elections plagued by biased vetting, intimidation,” ABC News, May 20, 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-20/vietnam-national-assembly-elections-plagued-by-bias/7430010.

29 Paul Rothman, “Media Use in Vietnam: Findings from BBG and GALLUP”, Cima June 10, 2015, http://www.cima.ned.org/blog/media-use-vietnam/.

30 Bita Eghbali and Lakshna Mehta, “Vietnam Police Detain Six Over Web Videos,” Global Journalist, September 29, 2015, http://globaljournalist.org/2015/09/vietnam-police-detain-six-over-web-videos/; Reporters Without Borders, “Citizen-journalist Nguyen Van Dai badly beaten,” via IFEX, December 11, 2015, https://www.ifex.org/vietnam/2015/12/11/citizen_journalist_attacked/; Radio Free Asia, “Authorities in Vietnam Crack Down on New Independent Broadcast Service,” September 25, 2015, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/authorities-in-vietnam-crack-down-on-new-independent-broadcast-service-09252015152145.html.

31 “Vietnam sets up its own Facebook page to reach its young,” AP, October 22, 2015, http://apne.ws/1Tkz6AH.

32 The Sec Dev Foundation, “Circum-what? Circumvention Widely Employed, Poorly Understood in Vietnam,” February 1, 2016, https://secdev-foundation.org/circum-what-circumvention-widely-employed-poorly-understood-in-vietnam/.

33 “Rare rallies in Vietnam over mysterious mass fish deaths”, Reuters May 1, 2016, http://reut.rs/23gFOI7.

34 “If a tree falls… online, will the Communist Party hear anything?” The Economist, April 18, 2015, http://econ.st/1DqEUy2.

35 “Son Doong Saved From Cable Car: No Development Until 2030”, Caving News, February 13, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OLzzDY.

36 “HRW Submission to EU on Bilateral Dialogue with Vietnam”, Human Rights Watch, December 13, 2015 http://bit.ly/1WTky8Q.

37 Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam’s Proposed Revisions to National Security Laws,” November 19, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/11/19/vietnams-proposed-revisions-national-security-laws.

38 “Vietnam legislature to postpone revised penal code as implementation day nears,” Tuoi Tre News, June 28, 2016, http://tuoitrenews.vn/society/35591/legislature-to-postpone-revised-penal-code-as-implementation-day-nears.

39 OpenNet Initiative, “Vietnam,” August 7, 2012, http://bit.ly/1Z4zX9m; The Ministry of Information and Communication,  Decree No 97/2008/ND-CP of August 28, 2008, Official Gazette,  August 11-12,  2008, http://bit.ly/1j9Ejf5; Ministry of Information and Communications, Circular No. 07/2008/TT-BTTTT of December 18, 2008, Official Gazette, January 6-7, 2009,http://bit.ly/1FSWgs7

Article 19, “Comment on the Decree No. 02 of 2011 on Administrative Responsibility for Press and Publication Activities of the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” June 2011, http://bit.ly/1JPbb1x; Decree 02/2011/ND-CP,  [in Vietnamese] January 6, 2011, available at Committee to Protect Journalists, http://cpj.org/Vietnam%20media%20decree.pdf.

40 Tilleke and Gibbons, “Legal Update: New Regulations in the ICT Sector in Vietnam, March 2016, http://www.tilleke.com/sites/default/files/2016_Mar_New_Regulations_ICT_Sector_Vietnam.pdf; Rouse, “New Law On Cyber Information Security And Its Impact On Data Privacy In Vietnam,” March 30, 2016, http://www.rouse.com/magazine/news/new-law-on-cyber-information-security-and-its-impact-on-data-privacy-in-vietnam/.

41 “Vietnam: Widespread ‘National Security’ Arrests”, Human Rights Watch, November 19, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OVc8y0.

42 Article 19, “Interview: Activist Le Quoc Quan, one day after his release from prison,” via IFEX, June 30, 2015, https://www.ifex.org/vietnam/2015/06/30/interview_le_quoc_quan/.

43 Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Events of 2015,” World Report, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/vietnam; Reuters, “Vietnam frees anti-state blogger, U.S. calls for more releases,” September 20, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-vietnam-dissident-idUSKCN0RK0D320150920.

44 Reporters Without Borders, “Another blogger held, RWB calls for immediate release,” December 31, 2014, http://bit.ly/1410Xhx.

45 “Vietnam: Widespread ‘National Security’ Arrests”, Human Rights Watch, November 19, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OVc8y0.

46 “Vietnam: Widespread ‘National Security’ Arrests”, Human Rights Watch, November 19, 2015, http://bit.ly/1OVc8y0.

47 “Demand release of blogger and his assistant”, Amnesty International, December 2015

http://bit.ly/21z4qQA

48 Committee to Protect Journalists, “Vietnamese bloggers imprisoned for 'abusing democratic freedoms,'” March 23, 2016, https://cpj.org/2016/03/vietnamese-bloggers-imprisoned-for-abusing-democra.php.

49 Committee to Protect Journalists, “Blogger sentenced amid clampdown in Vietnam,” March 31, 2016, https://cpj.org/2016/03/blogger-sentenced-amid-clampdown-in-vietnam.php.

50 “Vietnam: End Thuggish Repression of Activists”, Human Rights Watch, January 27, 2016, http://bit.ly/1KbQ9RY

51 Reporters Without Borders, “Vietnam continues crackdown on citizen-journalism,” December 10, 2015, https://rsf.org/en/news/vietnam-continues-crackdown-citizen-journalism; Radio Free Asia, “Authorities in Vietnam Crack Down on New Independent Broadcast Service,” September 25, 2015, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/authorities-in-vietnam-crack-down-on-new-independent-broadcast-service-09252015152145.html

52 FIDH, “Arrest and arbitrary detention of Mr. Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer and well-known defender of religious freedom,” December 18, 2015, https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/arrest-and-arbitrary-detention-of-mr-nguyen-van-dai-a-human-rights.

53 Trung Nguyen, “Vietnamese Student Jailed for Facebook Posts,” Voice of America, December 3, 2015, http://www.voanews.com/content/vietnamese-student-jailed-for-facebook-posts/3086505.html.

54 Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: 7 Convicted in One Week,” April 4, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/04/vietnam-7-convicted-one-week.

55 Tilleke and Gibbons, “Legal Update: New Regulations in the ICT Sector in Vietnam, March 2016, http://www.tilleke.com/sites/default/files/2016_Mar_New_Regulations_ICT_Sector_Vietnam.pdf; Rouse, “New Law On Cyber Information Security And Its Impact On Data Privacy In Vietnam,” March 30, 2016, http://www.rouse.com/magazine/news/new-law-on-cyber-information-security-and-its-impact-on-data-privacy-in-vietnam/.

56 Michael L. Gray, “The Trouble with Vietnam’s Cyber Security Law,” The Diplomat, October 21, 2016, http://thediplomat.com/2016/10/the-trouble-with-vietnams-cyber-security-law/; “Vietnamese Cyber Security Law Threatens Privacy Rights and Encryption,” September 8, 2016, https://www.tiasangvietnam.org/vietnams-cyber-security-law-threatens-privacy-rights-and-encryption/.

57 “Internet Censorship tightening in Vietnam,” Asia News, June 22, 2010, http://bit.ly/1yJgoHk.

58 Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: End Thuggish Repression of Activists,” January 27, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/27/vietnam-end-thuggish-repression-activists.

Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Events of 2015,” World Report, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/vietnam

59 “Vietnam’s rising repression”. New Mandala September 22, 2015 http://bit.ly/1ScnMmJ;

Vietnam Right Now, “Blogger “beaten and arrested” at Nha Trang vigil,” July 25, 2015, http://vietnamrightnow.com/2015/07/blogger-beaten-and-arrested-at-nha-trang-vigil/

60 Radio Free Asia, “Authorities in Vietnam Crack Down on New Independent Broadcast Service,” September 9, 2015, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/vietnam/authorities-in-vietnam-crack-down-on-new-independent-broadcast-service-09252015152145.html; BBC Vietnamese, “Xô xát vì vụ 'bắt người Lương tâm TV',” September 23, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/vietnamese/vietnam/2015/09/150923_xo_xat_o_quan_hai_ba.

61 “Vietnam reporter's press card revoked for insulting military”, AP June 20th 2016 http://apne.ws/28OXZRg.

62 Nhà báo phải cân nhắc khi sử dụng mạng xã hội < journalists should consider when using social networks>, Vietnamnet, June 21, 2016 http://bit.ly/28KtOKa.

63 “Thu hồi Thẻ nhà báo của nhà báo Đỗ Văn Hùng, báo Thanh Niên”, (Withdraw the Press card of journalist Do Van Hung, Thanh Nien newspaper), Tuoi Tre, September 4, 2015, http://bit.ly/1LxgTgy.  

Total Score: 
76
(0 = Best, 100 = Worst)
Obstacles to Access: 
14
(0 = Best, 25 = Worst)
Limits on Content: 
28
(0 = Best, 35 = Worst)
Violations of User Rights: 
34
(0 = Best, 40 = Worst)

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