How Decree 72 will negatively impact freedom of information and freedom of speech in Vietnam

Source: Internet

Source: Internet

Huong Nguyen, The 88 Project – The Vietnamese Decree 72/2013/NĐ-CP on Management, Provision and Use of  the Internet and Online Information (hereinafter the Decree), since its adoption on July 15, 2013, has had to face many critisms from Vietnamese bloggers and from the international community for restricting the use of Internet in Vietnam. Yet, some others have said, Decree 72 is about copyright issue. However, I suggest that, the motivation to adopt the decree set aside, the text of the decree includes provisions that clearly violate the rights to freedom of speech and freedom of information. Also, I am not sure to which extent this decree is about copyright.

Decree 72 prohibits social media users to share or discuss news, by distinguishing between “trang thông tin điện tử tổng hợp” – the general/”aggregated” news website (art. 20 clause 2) and “trang thông tin điện tử cá nhân” – personal news website (art. 20 clause 4). The reading of these two clauses clearly implies that the personal website of someone can only “provide, exchange information of that individual” and that personal website “does not provide general/aggregated information.”

Organizations need to obtain a license to provide “thông tin tổng hợp” (aggregated news) (art. 23 clause 4). And article 26 on the “rights and obligations of social network users” only talks about the information that one individual distributes through “direct hyperlinks that are created by her/himself.” That means that nowhere in the decree there’s a distinction between “sharing news on social media with proper citations” and “sharing news on social without citations.” The word “trích dẫn” (cite) actually only appears once in the decree, in the definition of “trang thông tin điện tử tổng hợp” (general/aggregated news websites). Which means only licensed general news websites can provide general news with proper citations. And personal websites, that is, social media pages, Facebooks and blogs, cannot do that.

So the matter is not much a copyright issue, but the point of those provisions is that social media users cannot share/provide general information or share news from news websites, even with proper citations to the sources. And I could not see how this could not be a violation of freedom of speech and freedom of information.

By the way, Mr. Hoang Vinh Bao’s statement on July 31 could be seen as the public expression of the “intent” of the Decree’s drafters that also support my interpretation of the Decree (Lawyers know the drafters’ intent is relevant for the interpretation of a document). Mr. Bao said: “First of all, we have to say it clearly that the websites of individuals can only post news about those individuals themselves. They cannot post general news, that is, they cannot quote information from news media agencies or from webites of state organs.”

Enforcement is clearly another issue. Many have said, and I agree, that the authorities will not have the capacity to monitor all Facebook accounts and blogs to enforce the Decree. But I do think the decree with have negative implication for famous independent news blogs, even if they carefully cite the sources of the information they share. More arrests may not necessarily be the result of this decree alone, but heavy administrative fines would be enough to make the lives of independent bloggers and Facebookers miserable. As an example, I am thinking of bloggers Huynh Ngoc Tuan and Huynh Thuc Vy’s family situation in 2011 when they got a fine of 260 million dong and all electronic equipment in their home (computers and radio, etc) confiscated, for an alleged violation of a decree on “the management of information technology” because of their writings for dissident websites and blogs.

Curiously, I cannot write a blog post stating a personal point of view without citing a bunch of news sources…

The Decree is going to enter into force this Sunday, September 1, 2013.

Huong Nguyen

© The 88 Project 2013