The Vietnam government is at it again. Five months after Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed Decree 72 that bans sharing of online news stories, now comes Decree 174 that imposes fines for posting anti-government propaganda on social media. The Decree, which will take effect on January next year, states that a fine of 100 million dong ($4,760) will be charged to anyone caught criticizing the government on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
The new law in particular applies to individuals, organizations and enterprises that have a Facebook account. Despite being blocked for periods of time, Facebook remains to be the most popular social networking site, with some 22 million active users in the country. The site is used by citizens to get news around the world as the official press is owned and tightly controlled by the government.
The passage of Decree 72 limited the use of Facebook and blogs to “providing or exchanging personal information”. According to Deputy Minister of Information and Communications Le Nam Thang, the decree was created so that people will “find correct and clean information on the internet” and prevent the circulation of false information online.
However, Reporters Without Borders, a group of press freedom advocates, said that the decree is an offense against freedom of information and that it is “extremely dangerous” as it meant constant surveillance by the government of the internet. The group has already branded the Vietnam government as an “enemy of the Internet” for its strict online rules and has placed the country at 172 out of 179 in the 2013 World Press Freedom rankings.
While no one has been charged yet under Decree 72, the passage of Decree 174 further puts Vietnamese citizens in a vulnerable state.
Other posts that can be fined are those that undermine national unity, comments that could “hurt the nation” and distorted historical facts such as uploading a photo of the territory of Vietnam that does not include their disputed lands against China.
Last October, activist Dinh Nhat Uy was charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” when he campaigned in Facebook for the release of his brother Dinh Nguyen Kha. Nguyen Kha was jailed for “propaganda against the state” and is currently serving four years in prison. Nhat Uy was sentenced to spend 15 months in jail.
Fines will also be imposed on online gaming with a charge of $5000 for game distributors that will allow minors to play after curfew hours. It is still not clear on what the accepted hours of gaming are.