On 16 August, Phan An Sa, deputy chief inspector of the Ministry of Culture and Information, called for the blocking of subversive and pornographic content on the Internet. He stigmatised five categories of Internet content that could "harm national security", including the exchange of anti-governmental information and the use of the Internet to commit fraud. Phan An Sa added that the authorities should impose fines and better educate young people on the correct use of the network. Most Vietnamese Internet users are between 14 and 24.
In the space of two days, the Vietnamese authorities have launched a national crackdown against Internet cafes and have banned one of the most popular sites, particularly with young people, TTVNonline.com.
"We fear that a policy of crushing freedom of expression on the Internet is being put in place in Vietnam as savage as that already in place in China. Censorship, arrests, checks on web-users and blocking of foreign sites are now a reality of the Internet and for Vietnamese web-users," said Robert Ménard, General Secretary of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) in a letter to prime minister Phan Van Khai.
The organisation called on the government to intervene with the relevant authorities to have the ban lifted on TTVNonline.com. "Your duty is to ensure free access to the Internet for all Vietnamese citizens," said Mr Ménard.
The Posts and Telecommunications on 5 August told authorities in the 61 provinces of the country to step up checks and inspections of Internet cafes. Hanoi recommended punishment for those found guilty of "harmful use" of the Internet.
Two days later the Culture and Information ministry suspended TTVNonline.com citing irregularities in its licensing and charging that it carried news that infringed the press law and "distorted the truth". No details were given.
Other official sources, quoted by Agence France-Presse, said it was discussion of issues on the site such as territorial concessions to China in 1999, political reforms and corruption within the communist party that prompted the ire of the government.
As the owner of TTVNonline.com, named best Internet site for young people in 2001, explained it to AFP, that "from time to time the tastes of young people differ complete from those of older generations."
The authorities have imposed strict control over the Internet since its introduction in Vietnam in 1997. There are currently more than 4,000 Internet cafes in the country allowing access to the worldwide web for nearly 600,000 Vietnamese. Access to sites deemed "reactionary", particularly those run by dissidents who have sought refuge abroad are blocked. Three cyber-dissidents are in jail: Song Hong Pham, Le Qui Quang and Tran Khue.