Vietnam Blocks Toronto-based Free Speech Website

Monday, May 3, 2004
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the manager of one of the world's pre-eminent websites on free expression, has discovered that its site is being blocked by the government of Vietnam. CJFE made the announcement on the occasion of May 3, World Press Freedom Day. "While much of the world is celebrating the importance of free expression, Internet users in Vietnam can't find out what's going on outside their borders because of government filtering," says CJFE Chair Arnold Amber. CJFE manages the website of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), a global network of 57 free expression groups. Each year, the site (www.ifex.org) documents more than 2,000 free-expression violations in more than 190 countries and provides information on a wide range of free speech issues, including Internet censorship. The organization recently asked the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a joint project of the Universities of Toronto, Cambridge and Harvard, to test if any countries were blocking the IFEX site. The ONI ran four rounds of testing on 18 servers in Vietnam and found it impossible to log on to the IFEX site. The servers were all run by Vietnam's main Internet service provider, Vietnam Posts and Telecommunications (VNPT). The ONI's Ron Deibert explained that "considering VNPT is the main Internet service provider in Vietnam, it is likely that the filtering of IFEX is occurring all over Vietnam and comes as a result of government directives. Vietnamese authorities apparently prefer their citizens not read the information contained on the IFEX site about freedom of expression." Amber says that as a result "a vital source of information about human rights is being denied to the Vietnamese people. CJFE urges the Vietnamese authorities to remove their filters immediately." Vietnam is one of the leading jailers of Internet dissidents, with seven currently in prison, according to Reporters sans frontières (RSF), a member of IFEX. Another IFEX member, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), reports that Vietnamese "authorities routinely use the threat of jail time to silence those who use the Internet to distribute information or viewpoints banned from the official press." There are currently 2.7 million Internet users in Vietnam, double the number of a year ago. CPJ says the government determines what information Internet users can access by directly controlling the gateways linking Vietnamese service providers with the rest of the world, and by a series of regulations limiting online content. An April editorial in the Hanoi Quan Doi Nhan Dan, the official publication of the Vietnamese army, acknowledged that the firewall has "caused serious bottlenecks to Internet connection and traffic." The editorial advocated a more efficient censorship system. A report last year by Privacy International noted that Internet censorship occurs in most regions of the world and has been accelerating in recent years. Fifty countries were identified as being of concern. The number of individuals jailed for using the Internet is also increasing, according to RSF. As of May 3, 2004, 73 Internet dissidents are imprisoned around the world (up from 61 in January 2004). The IFEX website, averaging 1.5 million page views a month, is a key resource on freedom of expression, featuring daily alerts on violations around the world, "spotlight" features on regional trends and reports on free expression covering more than 130 countries. Visit www.ifex.org to find out how IFEX's 57 members are celebrating World Press Freedom Day around the world.

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