Vietnam: Beware the blogger

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JudyTaing

03 May 2012

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Despite the troubling fact that many Vietnamese bloggers have been and continue to be arrested by their government, it is difficult for me to shake off the belief that the introduction of the internet into Vietnam will forever alter the country’s social and political context, and in turn, its power dynamics.

Although the government has effectively restricted physical space for free speech within the country, firewalls and ISP blocks are not foolproof. The imperfection of internet blocks coupled with the anonymity and pervasiveness of the cyber world means that the Vietnamese people are now presented for the first time with an endless frontier for activism.

I am not suggesting that visible large-scale changes will happen overnight, or even in the next couple of years. It is just undeniable, in my view, that the internet has opened up a new portal that the government can never plug up entirely, and as a testament to that, most of Vietnam’s human rights defenders can be found working online.

While the streets may be quiet from political discourse, if you look indoors, you’ll find millions of citizens fervently typing on blogs, cracking firewalls, and challenging their highly restrictive government through the internet.

The Vietnamese government is faced with an ever-growing fleet of online activists, with approximately 30 million individuals online—one third of the country’s population.

With the biggest social media giant Facebook blocked, blogs have risen as the most popular form of citizen political engagement. For example, bloggers were integral in drawing out the dirt from the state-owned Vietnam Shipbuilding Industry Group (Vinashin) by highlighting the misappropriation of $43 million in funds.

Although I remain cautiously optimistic about the ability of the internet to open space for political dialogue in Vietnam, this is not to disregard the grueling and brutal path that netizens have had to take, and will continue to take, to ensure that their voices are heard. Bloggers, such as Paulus Le Son and Pham Minh Hoang to name a couple, have been arbitrarily arrested for their online human rights work. Additionally, in June 2012, the government is intending to hand down decrees banning netizens from using pseudonyms and requiring for large internet companies to abide by local censorship laws in order to operate internally. 

However, despite such harsh responses by the government, the internet has opened up a space in Vietnam that will be impossible to completely reign in. The Vietnamese cyber world will be filled with battles, as other spaces have had in the past, but this new space is unique in that it has no boundaries. Note to the Vietnamese government: beware the blogger

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