The UN must do more to challenge the digital dictatorship unfolding in Vietnam. In ARTICLE 19’s Global Expression Report 2023, Vietnam ranks “in crisis” for ongoing violations of the right to freedom of expression. In spite of its Human Rights Council membership, the persecution and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders is widespread, with nearly 200 currently in prison according to the 88 Project, many for their online expression.
Vietnam has engaged in network interference and censorship, from throttling or shutting off internet access during protests or high-profile trials to manipulating internet intermediaries. Meta reportedly maintains a list of Vietnamese leaders who may not be criticised on Facebook, among other concessions unique to Vietnam, since the government-backed bandwidth throttling made economic hostages of the company in 2020.
Vietnam already has a highly problematic Cybersecurity Law, and in July of this year, issued a draft amendment to Decree No. 72 on the management, provisions, and use of internet services and online information, which would supercharge censorship and surveillance. The draft requires online platforms to proactively monitor and remove content based on vague prohibited categories and comply with 24-hour takedown orders, incentivising companies to resort to widespread censorship. Moreover, the draft imposes mandatory identity verification and user data retention requirements, risking a significant blow to the right to privacy.
ARTICLE 19 urges the Government of Vietnam to ensure internet freedom and end its digital dictatorship, including by ensuring the draft decree is consistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality and protects the rights to freedom of expression and privacy. It must immediately and unconditionally release those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom to expression.