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Bloggers detained in Vietnam for ‘abusing freedom’

Two Vietnamese bloggers were recently arrested because of the nature of the content on their blog.

Internet freedom and censorship is not enforced equally throughout the world. Unfortunately, the countries where there is the most to be critical of tend to be the countries where such speech is most limited. The power of the Internet to undermine authoritarian rule has complex history and it does not seem to be getting any simpler. The Arab Spring put the power of the Internet on full display, where citizens used tools like Twitter and Facebook to mobilize and report on the events that were going on in their countries, especially when local news outlets did not.

One of the products of this trend has been the emergence of citizen journalists. The line between a reporter and the everyday citizen continues to blur, especially as media becomes democratized online. Now, anyone can report on and cover the events or actions of the government, and depending on the quality of the content, generate a massive following. This is something that governments are growing more and more concerned about.

Vietnamese bloggers in prison
The Guardian reported that Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, two Vietnamese bloggers responsible for running the popular Ba Sam blog, were recently detained for the content of what they published online.

According to the news source, they were arrested for "abusing democratic freedoms that infringe on the interests of the state." Unfortunately, the wording of this rule seems to contradict itself. Democratic freedoms should not infringe on the interests of the state, as democratic freedoms are in the best interest of the state – that is, if it is a truly democratic society.

Unfortunately, these most recent actions, and other likes reveal that the government is in fact not entirely concerned about preserving democracy as much as it is in preserving its image.

The blog, Ba Sam, translates to Talking Nonsense and covers domestic and world news. Nguyen Huu Vinh started it in 2007, but in 2012, said that he would no longer be directly involved with the site out of concerns that is was becoming too dangerous to continue contributing.

The government was able to detain the bloggers under Article 258, which it has used on numerous other people who are critical of the government.

Vietnam Right Now reported that the article states that, "Those who abuse the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of belief, religion, assembly, association and other democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens, shall be subject to warning, non-custodial reform for up to three years or a prison term of between six months and three years."

More serious circumstances are punishable for between two and seven years.

A growing trend
Unfortunately, these recent arrests are not uncommon. Radio Free Asia cited statistics from Reporters Without Borders, which found that the country has detained at least 34 bloggers that are critical of the government.

The Internet can be an important place to develop more free and open democracies, by facilitating productive discussions on the path citizens would like to see their country take. Unfortunately, the actions by the Vietnamese government, and others like them, make it increasingly difficult to actually realize these goals. In order for online freedom, and democracy as a whole, to be preserved, there needs to be greater room for individuals to voice their concerns. Freedom of speech and the press is something that is practiced to allow for greater dialogues between the people and the government, and jailing bloggers works directly against this practice.

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