Get the low down on
credit card offers.
Free games and
demos for your PC.
Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and freedom of the press; however, the Government significantly restricted these freedoms in practice, particularly with respect to political and religious speech. Both the Constitution and the Criminal Code include broad national security and anti-defamation provisions that the Government used to restrict severely such freedoms. The CPV, the Government, and the party-controlled mass organizations controlled all print and electronic media. The Government exercised oversight through the Ministry of Culture and Information, supplemented by pervasive party guidance and national security legislation sufficiently broad to ensure effective self-censorship in the domestic media. During the year, the international NGO Reporters Without Borders claimed that Vietnam was among the 10 most repressive countries in the world regarding freedom of the press.
A press law required journalists to pay monetary damages to individuals or organizations harmed as a result of their reporting, even if the reports were true. Observers noted that this law limited the scope of investigative reporting. Several media outlets continued to test the limits of government press restriction by publishing articles that criticized actions by party and government officials; however, the freedom to criticize the CPV and its senior leadership remained restricted. Nonetheless, during the year, there were press reports about topics that generally were considered sensitive, such as the prosecution of high-ranking CPV officials in the trial of organized crime boss Nam Cam. The Government required officials to obtain approval from their ministry before providing any information to foreign journalists. Journalists must receive approval from their editorial offices before providing information.
The CPV and the Government tolerated public discussion on some subjects and permitted somewhat more criticism than in the past. The law allows citizens to complain openly about inefficient government, administrative procedures, corruption, and economic policy. Senior government and party leaders traveled to many provinces to try to resolve citizen complaints. However, on January 29, the Hanoi People's Court sentenced four persons to jail terms ranging from 24 to 42 months after they disseminated to all 61 provinces and the National Assembly letters denouncing local land clearance policies. On August 22, a court in Dong Nai Province sentenced four persons to prison terms of 30 to 42 months for inciting fellow farmers to voice complaints over provincial land use policies.
The Government continued to prohibit free speech that questioned the role of the CPV, criticized individual government leaders, promoted pluralism or multiparty democracy, or questioned the Government's policies on sensitive matters such as human rights or the border agreement with China. There continued to be an arbitrary line between what constituted private speech about sensitive matters, which the authorities would tolerate, and public speech in those areas that they would not tolerate. On March 17, police detained democracy activist Dr. Nguyen Dan Que on espionage charges for providing information to foreign journalists. At year's end, he remained in detention in Ho Chi Minh City, and his family was prohibited from visiting him. On June 18, a court in Hanoi sentenced Dr. Pham Hong Son to 13 years' imprisonment and 3 years' house arrest in a closed trial on espionage charges after he translated a number of English-language articles about democracy and posted them on the Internet. On August 26, an appeals court reduced the sentence to 5 years. In 2002, police repeatedly summoned democracy activist Nguyen Vu Binh, a former journalist, for questioning. He was under close police surveillance for several weeks thereafter before being summoned for questioning again and detained in 2002. On December 31, he was tried, convicted of "espionage," and sentenced to 7 years in prison and 3 years' administrative detention (see Section 1.d.). In 2001, biologist Ha Sy Phu, who was cleared on earlier charges of treason, was placed under administrative probation for writing articles calling for democracy. His administrative probation expired in March.
Since 2001, several democracy activists have had their telephone service disconnected. In 2002, before his December 2002 detention, retired Colonel Pham Que Duong was called in for questioning for several consecutive days and had his cell telephone service cut at least three times in 2002. In December 2002, police detained Duong in Ho Chi Minh City just after he concluded a visit to fellow activist Tran Van Khue. A day later, police came to Khue's house, detained him, and took away his computer and other materials. Khue and Duong had identified themselves as spokespersons for a number of other activists. Both Khue and Duong were in pretrial detention at year's end. Before his arrest on March 18, Nguyen Dan Que continued to call for democracy and respect for human rights, but authorities interfered with his ability to communicate by cutting off his cellular telephone service intermittently, shutting off his land line, and restricting his access to the Internet and e-mail for more than 2 years. Police monitored him closely and questioned him periodically until his March arrest. Que was in pretrial detention at year's end.
On July 17, the Government reduced by 5 years the cumulative 15-year sentences imposed on Catholic priest Thaddeus Nguyen Van Ly in 2001 for "damaging national unity." In 2001, Father Ly had submitted written testimony critical of the Government to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and frequently spoke out for political pluralism and complete religious freedom. On September 10, the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court sentenced Father Ly’s niece, Nguyen Thi Hoa, and two nephews, Nguyen Truc Cuong and Nguyen Vu Viet, to sentences ranging from 3 to 5 years' imprisonment for communicating information on his activities to foreign journalists. On November 28, the Ho Chi Minh Court of Appeals reduced the sentences of the three siblings, resulting in their release for time served.
The Government restricted persons who belonged to unofficial religious groups from speaking publicly about their beliefs (see Section 2.c.).
Some persons who expressed alternative opinions on religious or political issues were not allowed to travel abroad (see Section 2.d.).
Published reports on high-level government corruption and mismanagement became more common in recent years. Local newspapers devoted extensive coverage to the trial of the Nam Cam organized crime gang, with links to three high-level government officials, two of whom were members of the CPV Central Committee before their expulsions in 2002. The Government restricted coverage when it deemed that the scandal was receiving too much publicity and revealing too many sensitive points. Many newspapers ignored the CPV's instructions not to report on the case, resulting in strong rebukes. During the year, the editor-in-chief of Tuoi Tre, who presided over the newspaper during reporting on the Nam Cam trial, was transferred to the newspaper's real estate management group.
In 2002, the Government criticized reporters for what it considered sensationalized reporting on a major fire in Ho Chi Minh City. In December 2002, the Ministry of Culture and Information revoked the press identity cards of four reporters. Three of the reporters, Tran Ngoc Tuan of Tien Phong magazine, Dang Thanh Hai of Thanh Nien newspaper, and Nguyen Minh Son of Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper, filed what the Government claimed were inaccurate reports about Danang police beating citizens to the point of severe injury. A fourth reporter, Bui Ngoc Cai of Gia Dinh Va Xa Hoi newspaper, reported that a police major general had said that the Government might punish ministerial level officials for corruption. All four journalists had their press cards returned to their employers in October.
In 2002, the Government unexpectedly blocked press access to the foreign-funded, scientific Conference on Environmental and Human Health Effects of Agent Orange in Hanoi. The Government did not allow foreign journalists to attend sessions and restricted domestic journalists to the opening and closing sessions. At year's end, nearly 1½ years later, the conference papers had not been translated or distributed.
The Government generally required religious publishing to be done through one government-owned religious publishing house; however, some religious groups were able to print their own materials or import materials, subject to government approval (see Section 2.c.).
Foreign language periodicals were widely available in cities; however, the Government occasionally censored articles about the country. The Government sometimes delayed availability of a foreign periodical, apparently because of articles on sensitive topics. The Government generally did not limit access to international radio, except to Radio Free Asia and the Far East Broadcasting Corporation, which it continued to jam.
Foreign journalists must be approved by the Foreign Ministry's Press Center and must be based in Hanoi. The number of foreign staff allowed to each foreign media organization was limited, and most local staff who worked for foreign media were provided by the Foreign Ministry. The Press Center monitored journalists' activities and decided on a case-by-case basis whether to approve their interview, photograph, film, or travel requests, all of which in principle must be submitted 5 days in advance. The Press Center refused several travel requests, particularly for travel to the Central Highlands, although it did allow two journalist groups to visit the Central Highlands during the year. By law, foreign journalists are required to address all of their questions to other government agencies through the Foreign Ministry, although it appeared that this often was not followed in practice. Foreign journalists generally received visas valid for 6 months. One journalist was unable to renew his visa during 2002, and two journalists received visas for shorter than usual terms in 2001. There were no such reports during the year.
In past years, the Government censored television footage and sometimes delayed export of footage by several days. During 2002 and this year, such censorship was not known to have occurred, although regulations continued to allow the Government to screen such footage. The law limits access to satellite television to top officials, foreigners, luxury hotels, and the press; however, the law was not enforced uniformly, and an increasing number of persons in urban and some rural areas had access to censored television footage via home satellite equipment or cable. In 2002, following a visible increase in individual satellite dishes set up in conjunction with the World Cup soccer competition, the Government issued a new decree in an attempt to enforce this requirement more stringently; however, that decree appeared to go largely unenforced.
The Government censored art exhibits, music, and other cultural activities. However, the Government generally allowed artists broader latitude than in past years in choosing the themes for their works, although artists were not allowed to exhibit works of art that censors regarded as criticizing or ridiculing the Government or the CPV. Many artists received permission to exhibit their works abroad, receiving exit permits to attend the exhibits and export permits to send their works out of the country.
Foreign language editions of some banned books, such as Duong Thu Huong's Memories of a Pure Spring, were sold openly by street peddlers, and Bao Ninh's previously banned book, Sorrow of War, was available in bookstores in Vietnamese language editions. In one notable exception, the press launched a campaign to denounce well-known actor Don Duong for his roles in the films "Green Dragon" and "We Were Soldiers Once." The articles described the actor as a traitor and called for his arrest and detention. The Government also prevented actor Don Duong from traveling abroad for periods of time during the year (see Section 2.d.); however, it did eventually allow him and his family to emigrate to the United States.
The Government allowed access to the Internet through 6 Internet Access Providers (IXPs) and 13 Internet Service Providers (ISPs); however, all IXPs were required to be State-owned, or are joint-stock companies with the State as controlling shareholder. All IXPs leased Internet access through the country's largest access provider, Vietnam Data Communications (VDC). The Ministry of Post and Telematics reported that the country had 650,000 Internet subscribers and roughly 2,660,000 Internet users. The price of computers relative to the country's income level limited home use, but universities and approximately 4,000 cyber cafes allowed students and many other persons wider access to the Internet.
VDC was authorized by the Government to monitor the sites that subscribers access. The Government used firewalls to block sites it deemed politically or culturally inappropriate, including sites operated by exile groups abroad. The Government restricted access to the Radio Free Asia and Voice of America websites during the year. In 2002, the Government instructed cyber cafe owners to monitor their customers to discourage citizens from accessing sites containing anti-government material as well as pornography; however, such monitoring appeared uncommon.
In August 2002, the Government inspected a large number of Internet cafes to determine whether persons were accessing blacklisted sites. Also in August 2002, the Government closed a company that provided an online news service because it carried articles not allowed under the Press Law. In 2002, the Government required all owners of domestic web sites, including those operated by foreign entities, to register their sites with the Government and to submit their web site content to the Government for approval.
The Government restricted academic freedom, and foreign field researchers often were questioned and monitored. However, the Government permitted a more open flow of information within the country and into the country from abroad, including in the university system, than in previous years. Local librarians increasingly were being trained in professional skills and international standards such as the Dewey Decimal System that supported wider international library and information exchanges and research. Foreign academic professionals temporarily working in universities were allowed to discuss nonpolitical issues widely and freely in classes; however, government observers regularly attended classes taught by both foreigners and citizens. Foreign government informational materials of a non-political nature distributed to participants at a library conference in Hue were confiscated from participants by security officials. Some research institutions insisted that their faculty members receive permission to attend official professional programs on diplomatic premises or use diplomatic research facilities. Security officials frequently questioned those who regularly used diplomatic facilities concerning their relationship to foreign governments. Nevertheless, requests for materials from foreign research facilities increased. Academic publications usually reflected the views of the CPV and the Government.
NCBuy Home |
About NCBuy |
Members Center |
Site Map |
Link 2 Us|