Vietnam: Challenges and Opportunities for Freedom of Expression

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Session Description

This Vietnam-centric workshop will examine online repression, offline attacks, and the many opportunities digital technology has provided for civil society to push back against threats on freedom of expression. This workshop will specifically look at the online and offline repression currently taking place in Vietnam, during its election season, and the steps civil society has taken to mitigate harm.

This workshop is for activists, advocates, and developers who are interested in working in a region with extensive monitoring, government trolling, and censorship. Discussion will center around how users have been able to discover and access technology and how civil society outreach to those who are most at risk.

The Viet Tan team will share plans to develop an app for citizens to "vote" for independent candidates in the upcoming National Assembly election.

Background: For Vietnam, the May 2016 National Assembly elections will take place amidst increasing online engagement. Independent candidates are permitted in theory to participate, but the Communist Party-controlled Fatherland Front operates an elaborate process to screen and often disqualify non-Communist Party candidates. While internet penetration approaching 50% has increased the political space, cyber attacks, digital surveillance, and harassment of digital activists are still the norm. Government officials have taken to social media to spread their propaganda yet an independent press is still outlawed.

Vietnam: Challenges and Opportunities for Freedom of Expression
Presenter/s Duy Hoang, Viet Tan
Trinh Nguyen, Viet Tan
Bio 1 Duy "Dan" Hoang is the Managing Director for Viet Tan, a pro-democracy organization. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago. Before becoming a full-time democracy activist, he worked as an investment banker for over 10 years. He was a principal financial officer at the International Finance Corporation, the private-sector arm of the World Bank, where he was responsible for IFC’s local currency financing programs in Asia and Eastern Europe.
Bio 2 Trinh is the Digital Advocacy Director for Viet Tan. She manages the Internet Freedom Program, along with advocacy campaigns for human rights defenders. She is an evangelist for crypto and creative technology in activism work. Born in Vietnam, raised in Texas, educated in Washington, DC and Boston, Trinh is currently based in Vancouver. She has a decade of training and campaign experience in reproductive justice, anti gender-based violence, and digital activism.
Language English

Session Comments / Report out

The Internet has rapidly evolved in Vietnam over the past 15 years. Activists in Vietnam have utilised the Internet not only to express themselves online but also to collaborate and mobilise online discontent to offline actions. However, they have faced ongoing challenges by government tactics to crack down on dissenting voices with the use of cyber trolls and persecution of bloggers and activists in the form of arrests and physical attacks and harassment.

The growth of the Internet over the past decade has allowed for activists to jump onto new tools and platforms not previously seen before. Popular usage of Yahoo emails and messaging accounts led to Vietnam netizens utilising Yahoo360. This in turn attracted bloggers including prominent blogger Dieu Cay and his blogger friends to freely express their concern regarding Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and police corruption issues.

Government blocks of Facebook began in 2009 to prevent users from access the social media site. This backfired - creating an opportunity for Vietnamese netizens to look into circumvention tools and sites to bypass government blocks and firewalls to access their social media. Today, Facebook usage has skyrocketed in Vietnam with over 30 million active online users. Activists have jumped onto this platform to air their frustrations and mobilise masses for social issues including protests against the cutting down of Hanoi trees, rising petrol prices and educational costs.

Despite the increased political space, activists have faced constant challenges from the government in an attempt to reduce and crack down on online voices. The Vietnamese government issued decrees explicitly mentioning online activity and social activist Dinh Nhat Uy was explicitly charged for the content he posted on Facebook. Today, Hanoi authorities manage pro-government trolls used to harass and abuse activists online and online "public opinion shapers" to sway online thought.

The Internet has played a large role in engaging normal citizens with national politics. Blogs including "Chan Dung Quyen Luc" provided an avenue for netizens to find out and uncover scandals and corruption issues amongst the top Communist Party officials. In January's Party congress, the Internet became a tool to follow news about internal party politics and congress outcomes. Activists today have used the Internet to launch their campaigns to run in the upcoming elections for the National Assembly. Will this provide an opportunity or a challenge for the social movements in Vietnam and what role will the Internet play?