Sat, Dec 30, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Rights groups say Vietnam cyberarmy is a crackdown tool


The deployment of 10,000 cyberwarriors to fight online dissent in Vietnam adds a grim “new dimension” to controls on free speech in the communist country, rights groups said yesterday.

Vietnam routinely jails its critics and closely monitors activists on social media, which is not banned unlike in neighboring China.

State media this week quoted a top Vietnamese general as saying that a 10,000-strong brigade dubbed “Force 47” has been tasked with fighting “wrongful views” spreading on the Internet.

It was not immediately clear what Force 47 is responsible for, but observers anticipate the cybersoldiers will escalate smear campaigns against activists online.

Rights groups rounded on the move.

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the cyberscouts announcement was a “shocking new dimension to Vietnam’s crackdown on dissent.”

Others said the tactic is designed to squeeze online critics.

“This is just the latest plank in a campaign to curb Internet freedoms at all costs,” Committee to Protect Journalists Southeast Asia representative Shawn Crispin told reporters yesterday. “While they can’t unplug Facebook, Instagram and the likes outright, they can apply more and more pressure on those platforms and it looks like these cybertroops are their latest attempt to do that.”

Vietnam’s Internet is classified as “not free” by Web watchdog Freedom House, which ranks it second only to China in Asia.

About half of the country’s 93 million people have access to the Internet, and the country also ranks among Facebook’s top 10 users by numbers.

Earlier this year, the government asked Facebook and YouTube to remove “toxic content” from its sites.

In August, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang called for tougher Internet controls, saying that groups have used the Web to launch campaigns against the government that threaten the “prestige of the party’s leaders and the state.”

A conservative leadership in power since last year has waged a crackdown on dissidents, with at least 15 arrested this year, Amnesty International said.

Others have been handed heavy jail terms, joining scores of activists already behind bars.

Force 47 is likely to include commentators hired to publish pro-government material and counter critics, Freedom House senior research analyst Madeline Earp said.

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