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Nowhere safe for Vietnamese bloggers

A major leap forward for freedom of expression in Vietnam has been the rise of blogs. But this development has led to growing conflicts between bloggers, government authorities, and, potentially, multinational Internet service companies.  

Initially, bloggers who cared about national issues in Vietnam got connected over the Internet. After a period of trial and challenge, many developed into commentators on political issues and started to attract large readerships.

It should be noted that many Vietnamese Internet users adapted Yahoo! Messenger short message and chat service early on. So when Yahoo! introduced its 360° Blog service, many Vietnamese signed on and this network quickly developed into a very large online community.

Popular bloggers on Yahoo 360° include Vang Anh and Cong Ly Su That, who have in their writings courageously brought to light distorted historical issues, protested against government corruption and abuse, and exposed wrongdoing inside the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.

The unprecedented explosion of information exchange caused concern among government authorities, who strictly control Vietnam's mainstream media. In 2008, officials issued new decrees to control the Internet and stepped up harassment of prominent, critical bloggers.

Authorities last year arrested blogger Nguyen Van Hai, better known as Dieu Cay, and sentenced him to 30 months in prison on trumped-up charges of tax evasion. Many in Vietnam's blogging community believe he was really targeted for his critical entries on Vietnam-China relations.

They also harassed Ta Phong Tan and other bloggers like Anh Ba Sg, Dong A, Thien Sau, and Trang Dem, sending a signal to all bloggers that the government is closely monitoring their online writings. As a student studying in Taiwan, I've had the opportunity from abroad to freely express my views on Vietnam without the immediate risk of imprisonment.

That doesn't mean I'm entirely safe, however. Authorities working with the police have repeatedly visited my family inside Vietnam, even though they have nothing to do with my writings. They have through my family tried to pressure me to shut down my blog, which to date has attracted nearly one million page views and international media attention.

I have been a blogger since 2006 and I have twice in the last three years had to relocate my Yahoo! blog page. At first I thought I was the victim of unknown hackers, but later discovered that Yahoo had taken steps to freeze my account. I personally don't see how the political views expressed on my blog violate Yahoo!'s terms of service.

After repeated attempts to phone and e-mail Yahoo customer service, I have yet to receive a clear answer about why my blog was suspended. I believe it is worth noting that Vu Minh Tri, the head of Yahoo Southeast Asia Pte Ltd which operates the 360° blog service in Vietnam, is on record saying: "Yahoo is willing to cooperate with government agencies to ensure a clean and healthy social network."

I'd like to emphasize that blogger and Internet freedom in Vietnam is not only contingent on the government's policies, but also on the actions of multinational Internet companies such as Yahoo as well.

Blacky is the pen name of Le Trung Thanh, a Vietnamese university student based in Taiwan. His blogs include http://www.blacky2016.tk/ and http://prisonbreak1612.multiply.com/

(Reporting from Taiwan

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Comments

Le Trung Thanh:

I appreciate what you've done very much
Be courageous. We will get there .

Fair winds

NBT

Nguyen^~ Bao? Tu* May 5, 2009 5:01:46 PM ET

Well done mate,
It is interesting to read your blog.
Best wish.
Peter Le

Blacky:

You are amazing! Keep your spirit fired on and a movement will be borne.

John Meyers

We must to fight again the dictatorial regime as Vietnam and any dictatorial country. By the courageous action like Trung Thanh, hope one day we can see a democratic Vietnam soon.

I will talk to someone I know about starting a class-action lawsuit against Yahoo. I always knew they had been filtering search content for years. They did the same to Chinese political dissidents.

Today my fiance told me that the internet was down all day... she is in Saigon. After further investigation from her brother, he was told that the government shut down some ISPs. She has to switch to a government approved ISP. The corruption has to stop in Vietnam. From the politicians to the local police. Its unfortunate because Vietnam is a beautiful country.

I am an American student studying Southeast Asia and I just happened to stumble across this article. I think it is really interesting that the government has taken such measures to limit freedom of expression and I think its great that articles such as these are out there from people who are not afraid to stand up to them. As an American I had no idea that the Vietnamese government was so corrupt. I think you're doing a great job. The only way to over come is by keeping people informed that this kind of thing is going on.

Vietnam Libre`! Keep up the good fight..... there is a long line of pro democracy soldiers that have gone before you and continue to pray for you and support you. The Freedom Bird is the only bird that cannot be killed.