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U.S. Denounces New Curbs on Internet Freedom in Vietnam

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi says a decree banning the sharing of news on social media sites is inconsistent with Vietnam’s human rights obligations and will hamper foreign investment.

United States officials have spoken out against a new rule by the Vietnamese government that appears to bar local Internet users from sharing news stories on social media sites and personal websites.

Announced last Wednesday and set to go in effect on Sept. 1, the Vietnamese order, known as Decree 72, bans individuals and organizations from using blogs and social media sites to share “compiled information,” stipulating that such sites and services “should be used to provide and exchange information of that individual only.”

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In a statement of response, the United States embassy in Hanoi said: "Fundamental freedoms apply online just as they do offline. Decree 72 appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“In addition, this decree will limit the development of Vietnam’s budding IT sector by hampering domestic innovation and deterring foreign investment,” the statement added.

Press freedom advocacy group Reporters Without Borders also blasted Decree 72, which was signed by prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung on July 17.

“The announced decree is nothing less than the harshest offensive against freedom of information since Prime Minister Nguyen signed a decree imposing tough sanctions on the media in 2011,” the organization said. “If it takes effect, Vietnamese will be permanently deprived of the independent and outspoken information that normally circulates in blogs and forums.”

It is not yet fully clear, however, what the degree and the Vietnamese officials who drafted it, mean by “compiled information.” The government also hasn’t explained how it plans to implement the rule, and what penalties or punishments violators are likely to face.

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The State-backed VNExpress news site quoted Hoang Vinh Bao, chief of the country’s Department of Radio, TV and Electronic Information, as saying that the rule bans individuals from posting on social media “from newspapers, press agencies, or other state-owned Web sites.” But he soon dialed those remarks back, saying the rule was meant to control how individuals cited other sources' information.

Nguyen Minh Thuyet, a former lawmaker in the Vietnamese Congress, told the Wall Street Journal that he finds the wording confusing but believes it should be interpreted more charitably.

“I think the decree doesn’t mean to limit the right to share information,” he said. “But instead, it aims at fighting copyright violations. And the authority needs to clarify it.”

The issue is likely to take on greater urgency as social media companies continue to expand their footprint in Vietnam. Facebook’s office there told the Journal that the number of Facebook users in the country reached 12 million in March, up from 8.5 million just last October.