Reporters Without Borders today condemned a directive issued by Vietnam’s ruling communist party aimed at stepping up surveillance of the country’s 5,000 cyber-cafés by turning their owners into police auxiliaries. The directive also tends to tighten controls on online journalists who, according to the authorities, "provide sensationalist news and articles while others even publish reactionary and libellous reports and a depraved culture."
The press freedom organisation said that, although the Vietnamese government tried to justify these measures by referring to national security and defence, they were clearly designed to stifle dissent.
"It is individual freedoms that will suffer dramatically as a result of a law like this," the organisation said, adding: "These measures are a complete negation of the free enterprise principles espoused by the World Trade Organisation, which Vietnam is trying to join."
The inter-ministerial directive on controlling cyber-cafés, which was adopted jointly by the public security ministry and the culture and information ministry, will take effect on 30 July. It reinforces a decree issued last year which was not properly implemented and which was supposed to make cyber-café owners keep a record of all their customers for 30 days.
The new directive will also force cyber-café owners to take a six-month course in order to learn how to "monitor" their customers better. The government daily newspaper Tin Tuc (The News) reported on 21 July that cyber-café owners and managers will have to check the identity of customers and ban them from accessing "pornographic and subversive" sites.
Tin Tuc quoted a cyber-café owner in the capital as saying, "I cannot examine customers’ ID cards because they would leave at once." The cyber-cafés will also have to close at midnight while children under 14 will not be allowed in unless accompanied by an adult.
Three cyber-dissidents are currently imprisoned in Vietnam. They are Nguyen Khac Toan, Nguyen Vu Binh and Pham Hong Son, who is serving a five-year sentence for downloading an article entitled "What is democracy?" from the US embassy’s website, translating it into Vietnamese and distributing it on the Internet.