Vietnam Authorities Seek to Imprison Facebookers to Tighten Information Control amid Increasing Threat of Coronavirus Pandemic


One Facebooker interrogated in police station about his posts on COVID-19 (Laborer newspaper)


Defend the Defenders, April 6, 2020


Vietnam’s communist regime has set a plan to imprison a certain number of citizens, including independent bloggers and Facebookers in order to silence independent voices asking the government for information transparency and the right for being informed amid the increasing threat of COVID-19’s expansion nationwide.

The state-controlled media has reported that the Supreme People’s Procuracy is requesting its agencies in provinces and districts nationwide to cooperate with local authorities to “select” some cases to prosecute in order to ensure the government’s orders being implemented strictly.

Along with targeting those citizens who fail to obey the government’s regulations for prevention and protection against Coronavirus outbreak or those who violate the request for social distance leading to government’s extra spending on measures of over VND100 million ($4,230), the campaign likely to aim to crack down on netizens who try to provide accurate information and early warning regarding the COVID-19 infection to the public on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Accordingly, the local authorities will criminalize the acts of spreading “fake news” or unverified information as well as “anti-state online posts regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which threatens to spread with higher speed in the Southeast Asian nation.

The Supreme People’s Procuracy said Coronavirus’s development is very complicated in Vietnam and violations related to the pandemic would cause serious consequences to social orders and instability.

In recent months since COVID-19 broke out in many localities, the security forces have summoned more than 300 Facebookers to police stations for interrogation about their posts on the disease spread and the government’s shortcomings in dealing with the pandemic. Police have forced hundreds of them to delete their posts and imposed administrative fines of between VND7.5 million ($320) to VND15 million. From April 15, the fines may hit VND30 million.

So far, none has been charged with criminal offenses, however, with the direction of the Supreme People’s Court, the things could change and netizens may face imprisonment as well.

Facebookers who disseminate information about COVID-19 may be charged with “abusing democratic freedom” or “conducting anti-state propaganda” in the Criminal Code with imprisonment of between three and seven years in prison for the first charge and between seven to 12 years in jail for the second charge.

Currently, Vietnam has around 250 cases infected with Coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Health. Around 4,500 cases suspected and are held in medical facilities while tens of thousands of people are under quarantine in concentrated camps across the nation.

Also according to the ministry, no casualty of COVID-19 has been reported.

However, activists and many experts said the figures provided by the ministry are not reliable given the fact that hundreds of Chinese citizens, including from Wuhan, the first epicenter of the disease, have been visited and freely moved across Vietnam since late 2019 when the first cases were reported in the Chinese province of Hubei.

Activists said Vietnam’s communist regime, like China’s regime, is undermining the figures of Coronavirus infection and praise the government’s efforts in dealing with the pandemic to raise the regime’s legitimacy.