Vietnam: Criticize government on social media and go to jail

The Southeast Asian nation is serving up harsh penalties, including fines and prison time, to people who post "propaganda against the state" on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read
The Vietnamese government is increasingly censoring its citizens online. The country's capital, Hanoi, is shown in the above photograph. Declan McCullagh/CNET

Vietnam is joining the ranks of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China, as being known as a country that censors its citizens on social media.

The government introduced a new law this week that fines people $4,740 for posting comments critical of the government on social-networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, according to Reuters. Some people could also face extensive prison terms.

While the law is unclear about what kind of speech sparks government censorship, it does say that "propaganda against the state" and "reactionary ideology" would elicit fines.

Vietnam's communist government has increasingly censored its citizens' free speech over the past few years. According to Reuters, arrests and convictions for criticizing the government online have skyrocketed the last four years.

Human rights group Amnesty International has condemned the Vietnamese government for its crackdown on free speech. In a report published earlier this month, the group lists 75 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam who were jailed for alleged "propaganda" against the government. Some of these prisoners face harsh conditions, like solitary confinement and torture.

"Vietnam is fast turning into one of South East Asia's largest prisons for human rights defenders and other activists," Amnesty International Vietnam researcher Rupert Abbot said in a statement. "The government's alarming clampdown on free speech has to end."

Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders also named Vietnam an "enemy of the Internet" for the last several years in a row. In its most recent report published in March, the group said the Vietnamese government is one of the most repressive in terms of Internet censorship and extensive government surveillance.

Vietnam isn't the only country that censors its residents on social media sites. Several countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Bahrain, either censor or forbid social networking. China is also known for extreme censorship when it comes to social media and blogging.

In a recent Global Transparency Report, Google said that it has seen an alarming incidence in government requests to gather information on their citizens. Some of the top offending countries in Google's report include the US, India, and Germany.