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US embassy criticizes new Vietnam Internet decree

The US Embassy in Hanoi [official website] on Tuesday criticized [press release] a new Vietnam Internet decree that would effectively restrict online discussion of current affairs in the country. The decree requires all foreign websites to have at least one server in Vietnam, which would give greater content control to the Vietnamese government. The US embassy stated that the new law, which is set to take effect in September [Reuters report], is inconsistent with the country's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], as well as those under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [text]. The Asia Internet Coalition (AIC) [official website], an industry association formed by eBay, Facebook, Google, Salesforce and Yahoo! Incorporated, stated [press release] that "the Decree will stifle innovation and discourage businesses from operating in Vietnam." Although the new law will outlaw any Internet content that harms national security and declines to elaborate on what will constitute a security breach, the Vietnamese government stated that the decree is misunderstood and will not ban people from information-sharing.

This is the most recent criticism against the Vietnamese government for its history of suppressing dissident activity. In February 22 Vietnamese activists were sentenced to lengthy prison terms [JURIST report] after the group was convicted of engaging in subversive activities to overthrow the county's communist government. Also in February Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] stated in its annual World Report [JURIST report] that Vietnam's government has been "systematically suppressing freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and persecuting those who question government policies, expose official corruption, or call for democratic alternatives to one-party rule" during the last few years. In January Vietnamese authorities released and deported [JURIST report] Vietnamese-American pro-democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan after a nine-month detention. Quan was arrested [JURIST report] on terrorism charges for planning protests in support of a banned group of US exiles. In the same month Vietnam convicted [JURIST report] 14 bloggers of subversion and issued prison sentences ranging from 3 to 13 years.

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