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Vietnam 20 February 2009

Government frees cyber-dissident while keeping online activities under strict control

Reporters Without Borders is relieved to learn that journalist Huynh Nguyen Dao was freed on 15 February on completing a 30-month jail sentence for circulating Internet material criticising the government. The organisation regrets that respect for the right to online free expression continues to be rare in Vietnam.

"We are happy for Dao and his family," Reporters Without Borders said. "His imprisonment was unjust and we deplore the fact that this kind of arbitrary detention can still take place. All the time he was held, Dao continued to insist on his innocence and on the right of Vietnamese to express themselves. But the government is doing everything possible to intimidate activists who use the Internet, as evidenced in the recent directives restricting online free expression."

As he left prison, Dao told journalists he did not request an amnesty because he "did not do anything wrong." He added: "What I told the prison officials and security officials many times, and what I want to share with everybody, is my call for dialogue. I think that the foundation of democracy is dialogue."

A founder member of the banned Democratic Party, Dao was arrested on 15 August 2006 and was sentenced by a Ho Chi Minh City court to three years in prison on 10 May 2007. Two other members of the party, Nguyen Bac Truyen and Le Nguyen Sang, were tried with him and were given jail sentences of four and five years respectively.

They were convicted on charges of "propaganda against the Communist government" for distributing material downloaded from the Internet. The judge ruled that their activities were "dangerous for society" and "undermined the government’s authority." Six months were taken off Dao’s sentence on 17 August 2007.

Meanwhile, new measures were introduced on 20 January to regulate blogging. Article 1 of a directive called "Circular No. 7" says blogs must henceforth provide only strictly personal information. Article 2 says blogs must not be used to disseminate press reports, literary works or publications banned by the press law.

Article 6 stipulates that every six months, or at the government’s request, blog platform hosts must provide information about the activities of their clients, including the number of blogs they are operating, their statistics and any blog details that having violated the platform’s rules. Approved on 18 December, these rules are designed to curtail the development of Vietnam’s blogosphere, which has been challenging the state media as a source of news and information.

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