By blocking the Facebook.com social networking service, Vietnam is revealing its discomfort with the fast expanding avenue for free expression even as it pushes to turn the once poor agrarian nation into a modern industrial society by 2020.
While the Communist Party has recognized the importance of Internet in its mission to modernise the country as part of its “socio-economic strategy”, the months leading up to the Eleventh National Party Congress have seen a slew of measures to censor expression on the Internet.
“In the run-up to the Party Congress, websites and blogs have been closed, Facebook is blocked, and new legislation was introduced to oblige cyber- cafes to install software to monitor their clients on-line activities,” says Vo Van Ai, president of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), a Paris-based rights lobby.
“Although many Vietnamese people enjoy a better standard of living than before, there is growing concern about the wealth disparity and social inequality,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Spaces for debate on this situation are very limited.”
The government will keep the likelihood of this debate spilling into cyberspace to a minimum. Vietnam has been described as having one of the fastest growing on-line communities, with 25 million of a population of 86 million – or nearly one in three people – utilizing the Internet for information and expression.