Vietnam police to shut down Vietnamese American’s website

Hanoi – Vietnamese police plan to soon shut down a popular website run by a Vietnamese-American entrepreneur for violating rules on copyright and political content, a police official said Wednesday. “The leaders of the company have admitted their wrongdoing,” said Dinh Huu Tan, deputy head of the Hanoi Police Department for Ideological and Cultural Security.

The search portal, timnhanh.com, belongs to VON, a company owned by Paul Nguyen Hung.

The newspaper Hanoi Security quoted police sources Wednesday as saying the website had hosted pornography as well as “misleading information” about the Vietnamese Communist Party and government policies.

VON, or the Vietnam Online Network, was licensed in 2007 by Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication to operate websites with a commercial purpose.

It operates 13 sites, including the job search sites kiemviec.com and hrvietnam.com, and the automobile sales site xe.timnhanh.com. Those sites would continue to operate.

But Vietnamese media reported Wednesday that timnhanh.com had instead become an electronic news portal and had reprinted information from other news sources in violation of copyright laws and had published unauthorized political content.

Tan said authorities would employ only administrative punishments because they had not gathered enough evidence for a criminal case against VON.

Under Vietnam’s Communist system, all domestic news organizations must be affiliated with the government.

The government has strengthened its control over the media during the past year, prosecuting two reporters who pursued corruption stories aggressively and firing editors at popular newspapers such as Tuoi Tre (Youth), Thanh Nien (The Young) and Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity).

In December, the government also introduced regulations on what types of information private bloggers may include in their blogs.

http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/255224,vietnam-police-to-shut-down-vietnamese-americans-website.html

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Dead men talking: the Vietnamese government’s media campaign against Catholics

Hanoi, Sep. 18, 2008 (CWNews.com) – In the latest clash between Vietnamese Catholic protestors and state officials, Church officials have pointed to gross distortions carried by the government media in their coverage of demonstrations outside a Redemptorist monastery in Hanoi.

After Bishop Anthony Vu Huy Chuong of the Hung Hoa diocese pointed out cases in which people masquerading as priests and lay Catholics have been employed in state media to discredit the Church, other dioceses launched counter-attacks on the dishonesty of the state-controlled media. A Catholic prosecutor in Phat Diem diocese has accused the People’s Police newspaper of distorting his opinion. “I confirmed that I never said anything relating to Thai Ha, I never asked for the punishment [against the protestors], I did not mention God in my answers,” said Judge Vu Kim My of Kim Son, who protested immediately after his name was invoked in a report carried by the paper on September 15. He said that the reporter asked him only two questions relating to general law. “The rest of the report was added by themselves”, said Judge Vu.

The case of Judge Vu is a further evidence of what Msgr. Vu Huy Chuong denounced on September 8: a campaign of falsehood and disinformation by the state media.

In an article in New Hanoi newspaper dated August 20, Nguyen Quoc Cuong of Dai On parish in Chuong My accused Thai Ha protestors of “not following the Catholic Catechism.” The Hanoi archdiocese quickly found out that the man existed only in the imagination of the reporters. “He simply does not exist in our parish,” said a parish council member.

Even more miracously, the same paper made a dead person speak out against his brothers and sisters in faith. Nguyen Duc Thang was introduced as a parishioner of Thach Bich, and a Church dissident who strongly opposed the protests at Thai Ha. This time the archdiocese discovered that the individual is deceased. “Yes, he was a Catholic in my parish”, said Father Nguyen Khac Que, the vicar of Thach Bich. But, “he already died a few years ago. I have no idea how a dead person could answer an interview.”

In an on-the-spot report in front of the Thai Ha monastery, cameramen from Hanoi Television interviewed an elderly man on September 4, introducing him as an active Catholic. But when the Catholic demonstrators gathered at the site asked the man for his Christian name, he could not answer; he admitted that he was a beggar. “They [the television cameramen] had given me some money to act and speak as instructed,” he disclosed.

On The Voice of Vietnam, the state’s official radio network, Father Nguyen Van Khanh, vicar of Gia Nghia in the Lam Dong province, was reported to oppose protests in Thai Ha, and to praise the land policy of the government. However when contacted by Church authorities of the Dalat diocese, the priest insisted that no one had interviewed him. Furthermore, he said flatly that his parish’s land “was confiscated without any compensation.” The parish was forced to move deep inside the mountainous area of Dak Nut. After all petitions had fallen upon deaf ears, “we had to buy a new piece of land to build a new church. We strongly disagree with the government on the way it handles land disputes,” Father Nguyen added.

In a communiqué read at every Sunday Mass, Father Anthony Pham Anh Dung, the vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Hanoi, warned priests and faithful of the archdiocese against tricks being played by the state media “in order to make up fake scenarios to distort and deceit public opinion.”

In many Vietnamese dioceses, the faithful have been gathering regularly around display cases where the church bulletins are posted, to see reports from media sources outside Vietnam about the events taking place in Hanoi. State officials have warned citizens not to read articles from Catholic World News, AsiaNews, and other independent agencies. Nevertheless the stories are in high demand in Vietnam; they are being translated quickly and posted in church bulletins.

State officials have also exerted pressure on Catholic activists by taking steps to make their children uncomfortable in school.

A high-school principal in Hanoi recently told the demonstrators at Thai Ha that he had been ordered by the the People’s Committee of Thanh Oai district to travel more than 30 km a day from his school to Thai Ha to check where his students attended prayer meetings. The principal, Nguyen Tien Toan, reported that teachers were encouraged to threaten the children of Catholic activists with bad grades and even possible expulsion from school.

Most teachers feel reluctant to take such actions their students. But some seem to see it as opportunity to act on their own anti-Catholicism ideology. Two year Catholic students from Thach Bich told their parents they had been forced by their teachers to stand in front of their classmates to be mocked. The “humiliation session” had dragged on until the 11-year old children promised not to go to the church again.

Teachers in Bich Hoa high school, out of the fear of losing their promotion and pay rise, asked all Catholic students to pledge in writing not to join their parents in the demonstrations at Thai Ha. In addition, non-Catholic students were ordered to report the presence of their Catholic classmates at the site.

Catholic students from Hanoi university reported facing expulsion for joining the protestors. “We have been repeatedly warned not to go to Thai Ha”, said an architect student, who has requested anonymity for his own safety. “We just come here to pray. We do nothing wrong. We have no weapons and no political ambition. Why they fear us?” he asked.

Source: Catholics World News

Media watchdog urges Vietnam to release blogger

HANOI (AFP) — A media rights watchdog on Thursday urged Vietnamese authorities to free a blogger arrested before the Olympic torch relay who the group said was being targetted for his political views.

Nguyen Hoang Hai, who blogs under the pseudonym of Dieu Cay, was arrested April 19 for tax fraud. Authorities accuse him of not paying taxes for 10 years on a property that he owns, said the group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

“Tax fraud was just a pretext to prevent Dieu Cay from demonstrating when the Olympic torch went through Ho Chi Minh City and from criticising the communist party online,” RSF said in a statement received Thursday.

The Beijing flame was dogged by protests against China’s rule of Tibet and other human rights issues on several stops on its global journey.

Dieu Cay’s arrest came 10 days before the torch passed through the former Saigon. The blogger is known for his opposition to Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over the disputed Paracel and Spratleys archipelagos in the South China Sea — island chains that Vietnam also claims.

“Dieu Cay had posted articles on his blog about protests worldwide during the Olympic torch’s progress through various cities, along with articles critical of China’s policy in Tibet and the Parcel and Spratly archipelagos,” RSF said.

“He had called for demonstrations as the torch passed through Ho Chi Minh City,” the group added.

In Vietnam, anti-Chinese sentiment had flared in rallies since late last year over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos, and the issue was hotly debated on unofficial weblogs ahead of the torch relay.

Vietnam initially allowed peaceful demonstrations outside Chinese diplomatic missions last December but later deployed police to stop repeat rallies.

The Spratly and Paracel island chains have been flashpoints for years.

The Spratlys are claimed in full or part by China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and the Paracels are claimed by China, which now occupies them, as well as by Vietnam and Taiwan.

http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5izrA8sgXAa1xSlnIj1_VF8Qx3ePg

Focus on Vietnam’s press freedom

 

Journalist Nguyen Viet Chien is escorted away by police on 12 May 2008

Nguyen Viet Chien (L) is one of two journalists arrested last month

Vietnam’s patchy record of media freedom was in the spotlight again this week when a meeting of international donors urged the country to expand press liberties.

Foreign representatives at the Third Dialogue on Anti-Corruption in Hanoi expressed their concern about last month’s arrest of two well-known local journalists, fearing that it could set a “bad precedent” for the future reporting of corruption cases.

Nguyen Van Hai, 33, and Nguyen Viet Chien, 56, are in jail and under investigation for their reports on one of the most notorious scandals in Vietnam, where millions of dollars of public funds were used to bet on European football matches.

The scandal, dubbed the PMU-18 case, broke in 2006 and led to the arrest of a number of high-ranking government officials, including a vice minister of transport. The minister, Dao Dinh Binh, was forced to resign.

Newspapers were praised by the authorities at the time for their detailed coverage of the scandal.

No-one paid attention to the fact that long before the investigations were completed, the newspapers had already accused the jailed officials of all kinds of wrong-doing and described them as villains.

‘Abuse of power’

The case took an unexpected turn this March when Vice-Minister Nguyen Viet Tien, who was already on bail, was cleared from any criminal responsibilities and exempted from prosecution.

Vietnamese media showed images of the victorious Mr Tien appearing from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office. He vowed to make a come-back.

A reader looks at the Thanh Nien daily on 13 May 2008

The journalists worked for two of Vietnam’s most prominent dailies

Less than two months later, Mr Hai and Mr Chien, from Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien newspapers respectively, were arrested for “inaccurate reporting and abuse of power”.

A police general who allegedly provided information to the journalists was also prosecuted but not detained.

Public speculation ran rife over the apparently powerful connections of Mr Tien, who was once a rising star in the regime.

Vengeful or not, it seemed the state apparatus had got the upper hand.

Local media, which devoted detailed coverage to the journalists’ detention, fell silent after three days.

It is thought that the powerful ideological department of the Communist Party has ordered newspaper editors not to write anymore about the topic.

Two newspapers that continued reporting on the subject reportedly received a warning from the authorities.

Even when visiting US Assistant Secretary of State David Kramer raised concerns over the arrests, his words were omitted in the local press.

Ironically, while agitating about the media’s role in the fight against corruption on the occasion of the recent Anti-Corruption Dialogue, all newspapers chose to ignore their colleagues’ names.

 

‘Very tense’

But the arrest of the two journalists remains one of the hottest topics of discussion on online forums and among the public, especially because of the fact that Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien are two of the best-selling newspapers in Vietnam.

People reached out to foreign media organisations, such as the BBC, to express their anger and frustration.

An outspoken lawyer, Cu Huy Ha Vu, said: “The mafia are retaliating against the anti-corruption force. This arrest shows that our anti-corruption battle is going downhill.”

According to Vietnam’s criminal law, the two journalists can be held for four months before being brought to court. If found guilty, they face prison terms of one year as a minimum.

A reporter, who wished to stay anonymous, said: “The whole media scene in Vietnam is very tense at the moment.”

Another journalist wrote on his private blog: “The arrest made people think that those who fight against corruption now face repercussion themselves. It is impossible to explain why two leading anti-corruption reporters are jailed.”

‘Too powerful’

But there are some who think that it is about time that Vietnamese journalists reconsider their working ethics.

Hong Anh, a Hanoi resident, said he was shocked when he first heard about the detention of the journalists.

“But maybe the prosecutors have good reasons to press charges after all,” he said. “Some reporters have become so powerful, even corrupt. If they don’t like you, they could destroy your business in no time by writing negative reports.”

“And they nearly never apologise for false reporting,” he added.

Poet Bui Chi Vinh, who worked for Tuoi Tre newspaper during its early days, was even stronger with his words.

In an interview with the BBC, he said: “Anti-corruption has become a kind of modern-time mantra. Everyone is against corruption in Vietnam nowadays.

“It can be used to cover up wrong-doings,” he argued.

“A lot of other reporters had got into trouble, even eliminated, for fighting corruption but who was there to protect them?”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7437343.stm

Australia calls for Vietnam media freedom

Australia has urged Vietnam to let the country’s media do its job, following the arrests of two journalists who had criticised a 2006 government corruption scandal.

Australian envoy Bill Tweddell has spoken out against the arrests last month of Nguyen Van Hai and Ngyuen Viet Chien.

The two reporters work for the newspapers Tuoi Tre and Thanh Nien.

Two years ago they led aggressive reporting of a scandal involving transport ministry officials who allegedly embezzled funds and then gambled the proceeds on football matches.

Mr Tweddell says media freedom in the communist country is crucial if Vietnam is to win its battle against corruption.

http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/news/stories/200806/s2264228.htm?tab=latest

Shooting the messenger | The Economist

May 22nd 2008 | BANGKOK
From The Economist print edition

The press fights back as two graft-busting reporters are arrested

THE leaders of Vietnam’s Communist Party say they are conducting a “no holds barred” crackdown on corruption in public life. They implore the country’s newspapers to sniff out and expose the fiddles of officials. In February the party chief, Nong Duc Manh, praised the press for unmasking graft and thereby fulfilling “the people’s desires”. The most notable case was a scandal at the transport ministry in 2006 in which newspapers revealed how officials had gambled around $750,000 of public money on the outcomes of football matches. In the clean-up that followed, the head of a road-building department at the ministry was jailed, along with seven others.

But recent events have cast doubt on the sincerity of the leadership’s claim to be fighting corruption at all levels. The main charges against Nguyen Viet Tien, a former deputy transport minister, who was the highest-level official to be arrested over the scandal, have been dropped. More worrying still, the two leading investigative reporters who exposed the scandal have been arrested, along with two former policemen who were among their sources, on vague charges of “abuse of power” and publishing false information.

Vietnam’s news media, despite an appearance of diversity, remain tightly controlled: their editors have to be approved by the party and are called in for restrictive “guidance” on what they can report. In recent years they have nonetheless been allowed to publish an increasing amount of criticism of government policy—though it always falls short of questioning the party’s “right” to rule. The arrested reporters work for two newspapers, Thanh Nien and Tuoi Tre, that were especially fearless in exposing official corruption.

In an unprecedented show of defiance, both newspapers are standing by their reporters. Thanh Nien has run an editorial demanding: “Free the honest journalists.” It says it has been “swamped” with messages of support from the public and some National Assembly members. It challenges the authorities to explain why, if the offending articles had been so inaccurate, none of the police, prosecutors and the ministry of public security had got around to pointing out the errors at any time in the past two years.

It remains unclear why the authorities have suddenly turned against the graft-busters. Were they getting too close to an even bigger scandal? Are party bosses trying to send a message that those above a certain level in the hierarchy are untouchable? Or could it be a visible symptom of strife between reformers and hardliners in the party hierarchy? “People feel that the journalists are maybe the pawns in some larger game but it’s not clear what that might be yet,” says Catherine McKinley, a media analyst in Hanoi.

The Communist Party, like its Chinese counterpart, seems to have won the people’s grudging acceptance for having delivered impressively rapid economic development since ditching collectivism over 20 years ago. Now, however, it is battling against roaring inflation and an incipient balance-of-payments crisis. It may need to take unpopular but vital measures; and economic growth may have to be sacrificed temporarily to restore stability. So the party’s bosses will need the public’s forbearance. One good way to forfeit it is to victimise those who have spearheaded the fight against corruption.

Vietnam | Shooting the messenger | Economist.com

Press freedom an endless struggle for Asian media: Conference

The German-based Konrad Adenauer Foundation late last year held a conference on media and law in the Cambodian tourist center of Siem Reap. The Jakarta Post‘s Imanuddin Razak participated in the three-day conference, which covered discussions on press freedom in Asia.

Most people would agree that nothing in life is free — including the obtaining or upholding of press freedom.

This basic truth was uttered by one conference participant who hailed from a Southeast Asian country.

An obvious example comes from the conference host: Cambodia itself.

The president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), Pen Samitthy, said due to a weak judicial system and law enforcement in Cambodia, the establishment of a press council to assist journalists in avoiding legal lawsuits was a necessity.

Looking at the number of media outlets in Cambodia — 296 local newspapers, 90 magazines, 30 bulletins, 41 registered foreign media institutions, 22 radio stations and seven television stations, most of whom are privately owned — there is widespread recognition the Cambodian media enjoy press freedom.

The image that press freedom in Cambodia is strongly upheld was strengthened by a government decision in 2006 to decriminalize defamation cases to ensure journalists would not be sent to prison for defamation.

This encouraged Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders) to issue a statement deeming Cambodia the model for other Asian countries to follow in upholding press freedom; an important component of democracy. The group also ranked Cambodia 85 out of 169 countries with press freedom surveyed in 2007.

Cambodia rated far better than the other nine ASEAN member countries, including Indonesia (100), Malaysia (124), the Philippines (128), Thailand (135), Singapore (142), Laos (161), Vietnam (162) and Myanmar (164).

“However, I have to say that Cambodia is not a perfect place for journalists. There were six journalists killed between 1993 and 1997. Since 1997, there have been no journalists murdered; but arrests, threats and lawsuits are still concerns for Cambodian journalists,” said Samitthy.

The press freedom trend has since experienced a change from the use of violence to the use of the legal system. In 2006, there were seven lawsuits filed against Cambodian journalists, an arrest of a journalist and 12 cases of threats against journalists.

Fortunately, there were cases that could be solved out of court through negotiations, in which the CCJ served as the mediator.

However, Cambodian courts prefer to apply the penal code rather than the Law on Press. As a result, journalists can be imprisoned if they are found guilty.

Another concern is there are some articles in the Law on Press that can be applied to imprison journalists. An example is article 12 of the law regarding national security and political stability, which gives the courts permission to prosecute journalists whose reports harm national security and political stability.

Cambodian journalists can also be imprisoned if they have been sued by a member of the public and proven guilty of defamation.

Cambodian journalists not only face legal lawsuits, but also have limited access to information. Article 5 of the press law stipulates that journalists have to wait one month to obtain requested information from government officials.

The CCJ, Samitthy said, was considering establishing its own regulations to help journalists avoid lawsuits.

“An important step is to set up a national code of conduct for Cambodian journalists and a mechanism to enforce the code of conduct through the establishment of a self-regulatory body, known as a press council, which will monitor and deal with the issues between journalists and members of the public,” he said.

This is the lesson from Cambodia. But what about press freedom in India, an Asian country dubbed as the world’s largest democracy?

“The Indian Constitution, which came into force in 1950, stipulates that all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression,” Mukund Padmanabhan, Senior Associate Editor of The Hindu, said at the conference.

“Yet, the constitution does not have a specific provision for the freedom of the press. Press freedom is a defined right in India as it has its roots in the right to freedom of speech and expression of the citizen.”

Mukund specifically highlighted three laws — the Contempt Law, Defamation Law and Privilege Law — that had the potential to hamper press freedom in India, as they could be used to prosecute or even imprison journalists for their reports.

Meanwhile, press freedom in Malaysia and Singapore, which both impose an internal security act, remains a difficult issue to resolve.

The Reporters Without Borders group quoted Singaporean leaders as saying economic prosperity had to be paid for with freedom.

“I’m often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yet, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today,” it quoted a statement by former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Lee’s remark, according to Reporters Without Borders, sums up the policy of the country’s longtime ruler — that civil liberties are never a priority and that a good citizen should always remember national interests are more important.

This has remained the government’s attitude since Lee partly handed over power to his successors in 1990, after ruling for 31 years.

Similarly, press freedom in Malaysia has been criticized as the press there has been heavily influenced by the government, in the name of prosperity and stability.

In the Philippines, however, as both judicial and press regulations have developed toward freedom of the press, problems that still hamper press freedom focus more around security and safety for media employees and organizations.

A report compiled by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) revealed that five Philippine journalists were killed last year, increasing the total number of journalists killed under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration to 54.

Indonesia’s reform movement in 1998 led to the revocation of the Information Minister’s decree on media publishing licenses; the most effective tool of the New Order government in controlling the media.

Yet, reforms have also led people to exercise their rights independently, including the filing of both criminal and civil lawsuits by parties or individuals dissatisfied with media reports.