THE website of widely-read Vietnamese newspaper Tuổi Trẻ has been banned from publishing content for three months and fined US$10,000 after being accused by the government of publishing false information.
The Vietnamese-language website Tuổi Trẻ Online was suspended this week after the country’s Press Authority said it had published a story and allowed comments on its website that were “untrue” and a threat to “national unity”.
Posts are still being uploaded to the website’s Facebook page and its English language web portal Tuoi Tre News, however, while the daily newspaper printed a note on Tuesday saying it would comply with the order.
“During this time, Tuoi Tre Online will proceed with the perfection of its personnel, improving its content so that we can serve readers better when we are back,” said the paper’s editors said as quoted by the AFP.
Ironically, the newspaper is owned by the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union – the youth wing of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam. The Party tightly controls the press making it one of the most repressive media environments on the planet.
According to VN Express, the article with which authorities took issue was one entitled “Vietnamese President agrees on issuing Demonstration Law”.
The incident comes after rare displays of public protest opposing a new cybersecurity law and the establishment of a special economic zones demonstrators worry would bring excessive investment from China.
A comment left by a reader on an article in May about public infrastructure planning in the south of Vietnam was accused of being “nationally divisive”, VN Express reported.
“We condemn this blatant act of censorship in Vietnam’s already highly restricted news environment,” said Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement.
“This ban should be lifted and the government should stop censoring the media on arbitrary and flimsy grounds.”
Critics of Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law say it will be used to further crackdown on activism and the media, by prohibiting the creation, posting or spreading of information that is deemed to be “propaganda opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said in a statement last month that the goal of the law was “as much to protect the party’s monopoly on power as to protect network security.”
“This bill, which squarely targets free expression and access to information, will provide yet one more weapon for the government against dissenting voices. It is no coincidence that it was drafted by the country’s Ministry of Public Security, notorious for human rights violations.”
According to US democracy watchdog Freedom House, Vietnam’s media environment is already “one of the harshest in Asia”, with journalists and media organisations forced into submission via legal mechanisms and “physical harassment”.
Last December, 22-year-old independent journalist Nguyen Van Hoa was jailed for seven years for his coverage of a major environmental disaster.
The Southeast Asian nation is ranked 175 out of 180 countries on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index for 2018, just above China and North Korea.