Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security has proposed a draft bill banning the use of audio and video recording devices as a national security measure, a move that bloggers and citizen journalists say is intended to prevent them from doing their jobs in the repressive nation that restricts the media.
The draft bill, proposed this month by the ministry that oversees the country’s police force, also prohibits the use of disguised apps used to record audio and video.
But some bloggers and citizen journalists, who provide the only independently reported information in Vietnam, where the media is controlled by the Communist Party, believe the bill will prevent them from covering events and writing about abuses committed by authorities and infringements upon people’s rights.
“I don’t understand how they could come up with this draft,” freelance journalist Truong Duy Nhat told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “It sounds ridiculous and just aims at gagging people.”
Nhat worked for state-owned newspapers run by police in the coastal town of Danang in central Vietnam, but abandoned mainstream media to begin writing a blog in 2011 that became widely known for its criticism of the government.
Authorities took the blog off the internet after police arrested Nhat in May 2013. He served a two-year prison sentence for posting slanderous articles about Communist Party leaders on his blog.
“Even if it is approved, it won’t be feasible because people can take pictures without using cameras,” he said. “Everybody has an iPhone, and it is impossible to monitor them when they do recordings.”
Independent journalist and blogger Pham Chi said the ministry designed the draft bill because it fears the dramatic development of social media in Vietnam.
“Video clips and pictures are posted online in a very short time,” he said. “There are many negative images of policemen on streets, especially traffic police, who are notorious for demanding bribes. That has damaged the entire image of the police. Perhaps the traffic police proposed this.”
Freelance journalist Nguyen Thien Nhan agreed.
“They [the police] just want to make things more convenient for themselves, and they don’t want people to record officers who do bad things,” he said.
“They don’t want those pictures shown in public,” he said. “Whenever there is a negative incident that affects the police or the government, they always stand by their own people, provide biased information, and blame the incident on the people.”
“If this bill is passed, the tension between people and police will increase,” Nhan said. “People are now very upset, and this draft will make the tension get even worse, and it could lead to violence.”
Routine harassment, beatings
Police routinely subject bloggers and citizen journalists to harassment, physical assaults, and imprisonment.
Dozens of bloggers and independent journalists have been arrested in recent years because of their online posts, with rights groups accusing the government of using vaguely worded penal code provisions against them to silence dissent.
During the first nine months of 2016, at least 19 bloggers and activists were put on trial and convicted in Vietnam, according to Human Rights Watch’s most recent annual review of human rights around the world.
Vietnam ranks 175 out of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based international nongovernmental organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and the press.