Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Authorities crush online dissent; activists detained incommunicado

2 June 2010

Authorities crush online dissent; activists detained incommunicado


In a two-pronged attack, Vietnamese authorities have detained, interrogated and at times physically abused at least seven independent bloggers in the past two months, simultaneously carrying out a series of insidious cyber attacks on websites critical of the government, reports Human Rights Watch. Meanwhile, rights defenders continue to face sham trials and severe prison sentences for organising for the rights of workers or supporting opposition political groups.

On 8 May, authorities disconnected the telephone and Internet at the home of Ha Si Phu, one of Vietnam's best-known dissident bloggers. His blog and website have been regularly subject to cyber attacks in 2010. On 28 April, Lu Thi Thu Trang, an Internet activist linked to the pro-democracy group Block 8406, was beaten by police officers in front of her 5-year-old son. Another blogger was detained three times in April, interrogated and then released.

The cyber attacks are being inflicted on Vietnamese computer users worldwide, infecting the computers of tens of thousands of users who download Vietnamese keyboard language software, says a member of Google's security team. "These infected machines have been used both to spy on their owners as well as participate in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against blogs containing messages of political dissent. Specifically, these attacks have tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam, an important and emotionally charged issue in the country."

Since September 2009, dozens of sites have been attacked, including sites operated by Catholics criticising government confiscation of church properties, political discussion forums and opposition parties, and an environmental site against bauxite mining.

The Vietnamese government manages information flow in many ways. In the last six months, Vietnamese BBC service and Facebook have been blocked. In addition, Internet cafe owners are required to obtain photo identification from Internet users, monitor and store information about their online activities, and block access to banned websites.

There is simply no tolerance for anyone who expresses views on human rights or dissent of any kind, says Human Rights Watch. Rights activists Le Cong Dinh, Tran Huynh Duy Thuc and Le Thang Long were convicted in January 2010 on charges of attempting to "overthrow the government," for supporting the formation of an opposition party, and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to 16 years. All opposition political groups are banned in Vietnam.

Three other activists have been held incommunicado since their arrest in February. Doan Huy Chuong, Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung and Do Thi Minh Hanh were working to help impoverished workers and landless farmers to seek redress from the government.

"Vietnamese prison authorities routinely mistreat and torture political detainees during interrogation to pressure them to sign pre-written confessions and to disclose information about other activists," said Human Rights Watch.

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