As use of the Internet has grown around the world, so have efforts by many governments to control content and censor online speech, just as they do other media such as newspapers, radio and television.
Such a crackdown appears well under way in Vietnam, where more than 20 percent of the population turns to the Worldwide Web for news, e-mail and information.
Government officials are using technical means such as Internet filters and so-called “firewalls” to block access to Web sites seen as subversive or objectionable, and where technology is lacking, they use intimidation and coercion.
In recent weeks, Bui Thanh Hieu, writer of a popular Weblog, was detained for several days after criticizing a mining deal with China, Vietnam’s largest trading partner. Huy Duc, another blogger, was fired from his job at a Ho Chi Minh City newspaper after the Communist party complained about his writings, and others also have been detained on suspicion of “abusing democratic freedoms” to undermine the state.
Bilateral relations between the United States have come far in recent years, with greatly increased trade and cultural interchange. The stifling of free speech, including on the Internet, however, highlights one of the areas in which our two nations continue to disagree. As with the arrest of democracy activists, the U.S. has expressed its concerns about such suppression and, in effect, the criminalization of what is normally viewed as free speech in most other countries of the world.
Strengthening freedom of expression in Vietnam, on the internet and in other forms of media, will have a positive effect on the country, and it is in Vietnam’s interest to do so.