REEDOM ON THE
In February 2012, online activists took matters into their own hands in response to the Twitter
hackings, launching what they called Operation BAS (short for Operation Block and Spam).
Complaints to Twitter resulted in the suspension of several dozen allegedly compromised accounts.
Observers noted, however, that accounts belonging to genuine Chávez supporters, not paid
commentators, were among those targeted, and that the campaign thus posed a restriction to
freedom of expression.
It remains unclear whether the government is directly behind Twitter usurpations and other forms
of cyberattack. Although a group of hackers calling itself N33 has taken responsibility for the
attacks, some also suspect government involvement.
N33, which has been given air time on
state-run TV, claims that it supports the president but does not act at the behest of the government.
Editor of opposition news site Codigo Venezuela (and recent victim of hacking) Milagros Socorros,
however, received an e-mail from an anonymous sympathizer who claimed otherwise. The
informant, who claimed to work at the Ministry of Science and Technology, reported that an entire
floor of the ministry is devoted to following and hacking opposition activists’ online
communications. To date, the allegation remains unconfirmed and prosecutors have ignored
requests from victims to launch an investigation.
Several web pages of governmental organizations also suffered cyberattacks in 2012 and 2013.
Ernesto Villegas, Minister of Communication and Information, denounced the creation of fake
accounts on the social network Twitter, one allegedly belonging to him and others created by
hackers impersonating president Chávez’s daughter, President of the Central Bank Nelson
Merentes, and popular progovernment TV star Winston Vallenilla.
Villegas called on his
followers to block the accounts and report them as spam.
In May 2012, the N33 hacking group named Alberto Federico Ravell, editor of popular news portal
La Patilla, as an important future target.
A few weeks later, La Patilla reported that it had
6toPoder, “Operación BAS ha Suspendido un Centenar de Usuarios que Violan las Normas de Twitter” [Operation BAS Has
Suspended a Hundred Users who Violate the Rules of Twitter], 6toPoder online, March 11, 2012,
Luis Carlos Díaz, “El Descubrimiento de la Multitud,” [The Discovery of the Crowd] Periodismo de Paz (blog), April 3, 2012,
Laura Vidal, “Venezuela: Government opponents' twitter accounts hacked” Global Voices Online (blog), December 5, 2011,
Francisco Toro, “Hack a Mole,” International Herald Tribune, Latitude (blog), November 28, 2011, http://nyti.ms/tUajph.
“Páginas Web de Diversos Organismos Gubernamentales Sufren Ataque Informático” [Websites of Various Government
Agencies Suffer Hacking Attacks], Espacio Público online, August 28, 2012, http://bit.ly/OtNDb0.
“Villegas Denuncia Cuenta Falsa de Nelson Merentes” [Villegas Denounces False Twitter Account of Nelson Merentes],
Últimas Noticias online, February 10, 2013, http://bit.ly/15BPtko; “Hackean Cuenta Twitter de Winston Vallenilla con Mensaje
Falso Sobre la Salud del Presidente Chávez” [Winston Vallenilla Twitter Account Hacked with False Message about the Health of
President Chavez], Globovisión, February 13, 2013, http://bit.ly/WnPi4l.
“Ministro Villegas Denuncia Falsa Cuenta suya en Twitter” [Minister Villegas Denounces False Report on his Twitter
Account], Últimas Noticias online, January 9, 2013, http://bit.ly/1bhtYo8.
Adriana Prado, “Pro‐Chávez Hackers Steal Twitter Passwords from Venezuelan Journalists,” Knight Center for Journalism in
the Americas, September 13, 2011,
http://bit.ly/qi7g8J; Juan Carlos Figueroa, “Hacker del n33 Advierte: La Joya de la Corona es
Alberto Ravell” [Hacker warns of N33: The jewel in the Crown is Alberto Ravell], El Tiempo, September 7, 2011,
REEDOM ON THE
successfully fended off an intense cyberattack,
however during the October 2012 electoral
weekend the site suffered continuous DDoS attacks.
Cyberattacks, impersonations, and blocking all intensified on the day of the presidential election.
The Twitter accounts of political activists Ricardo Ríos and Carlos Valero, as well as that of
Humberto Prado (director of NGO Observatorio Venezolano de Prisiones), were all compromised
on election day, as was the account of Ricardo Koesling, general secretary of political opposition
party Piedra. The account of well-known singer Oscar De León was also appropriated and used to
comment on voting abstention.
Problems accessing news sites such as Noticiero Digital (Digital
News) and Globovisión (which registered a general failure of its servers) were also reported on the
day of the election. Weekly newspaper 6to poder (Sixth Power) reported the blocking of its website
by CANTV during the count of electoral votes; Ismael García, a well-known opposition deputy
who runs a political show, also noted the disabling of his personal website.
Cyberattacks and blockings also gained vigor surrounding questions of President Chavez’s health.
After his return to the country in February 2013, a group identifying itself as "Anonymous
Venezuela" and demanding to know the truth about the president´s health attacked the websites of
several military branches.
In early 2013, Venezuelans accused state telecom CANTV of blocking
access to Cuba Diary and Apporea in order to maintain secrecy surrounding the president’s health.
Several victims of cyberattacks and digital identity theft have filed complaints with the authorities,
yet as of May 2013 state bodies have neither launched an official investigation nor condemned the
attacks. The lack of response has led prominent civil society figures to take matters into their own
hands, holding a press conference and publishing an open letter denouncing the attacks as part of a
government-endorsed policy of “computer terrorism.”
Among the group’s complaints is that
although the Committee for Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigations (CICPC) had successfully
identified several perpetrators, the investigation was halted and the lead investigator was relieved of
Illegal intrusion into computer systems is classified as a criminal offense according to the Special
Law Against Cybercrime, which condemns the access, interception, destruction, sabotage,
modification, alteration, espionage and disclosure of any private information found in information
“La Patilla Informa a Sus Lectores sobre Ataque a Su Plataforma” [La Patilla Informs its Readers about Attack on its Platform],
La Patilla online, October 1, 2011,
Reference was collected by personal interview with a La Patilla source on condition of anonymity.
“Ataques Informáticos Sacuden las Redes Sociales en el País” [Hacking Shakes Social Networks in the Country], Espacio
Público online, October 16, 2012, http://bit.ly/15Az8pL.
“Ataques Informáticos Sacuden las Redes Sociales en el País” [Hacking Attacks Shake Social Networks in the Country].
“Hackean Páginas Militares Venezolanas y Exigen Saber qué Pasa con la Salud de Chávez,” [Venezuelan Military Websites
Hacked; Demands To Know What is Happening with Chavez’s Health], La Patilla online, February 23, 2013, http://bit.ly/XvxAKr.
Journalism in the Americas (blog), “Venezuela’s State Telecom Accused of Blocking Access to Site Reporting on Chávez’s
Health,” Accessed February 5, 2013, http://bit.ly/11nCLUb; See also: Espacio Publico (blog), http://bit.ly/18zL9kl,
and Harioff (blog): http://twitter.com/harioff/statuses/303668574671745024.
Liderazgo y Vision Asociacion Civil, “Hackeados e Indiganados Denunciaron el Terrorismo Informatico” [Hackers and
Outraged Citizens Denounced Computer Terrorism], December 2, 2011, http://bit.ly/164lnod.
“Denuncian ‘Terrorismo Informatico’ Impulsado por el Gobierno de Chávez” [Denouncing Computer Terrorism Driven by
Chávez Government] Globovision online, December 2, 2011, http://www.globovision.com/news.php?nid=210517.
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REEDOM ON THE
technology systems. Although the law specifies severe punishment for such crimes, extending to
imprisonment and fines, no penalties have yet been imposed.
Taken together, these
circumstances have led many observers to believe that the president or other top officials are either
directly or implicitly supporting the attackers.
“Espacio Público Exige al Estado Venezolano que Investigue y Sancione a los Responsables de los Ataques a Cuentas de
Correo y Usurpación de Identidad en Redes Sociales,” [Espacio Público Demands that the Venezuelan State Investigate and
Punish those Responsible for Attacks on Email Accounts and Identity Theft on Social Networks], Espacio Público online,
February 1, 2012, http://bit.ly/1bRp5F2.
Natalia Mazzote, “Ataques Digitales Contra Periodistas se Convierten en una Nueva Forma de Censura en Venezuela”
(Entrevista a Luis Carlos Díaz)” [Digital attacks against journalists become a new form of censorship in Venezuela (Interview with
Luis Carlos Díaz)] Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, January 2012.
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REEDOM ON THE
Vietnam overtook Iran as the world’s second worst jailer of netizens after China in
2013, with more than 30 behind bars, according to Reporters Without Borders (see
A court sentenced blogger Nguyen Van Hai—already jailed since 2008—to another 12
years imprisonment on anti-state charges (see V
Decree 72, passed in July 2013, sought to compel international service providers to
comply with government censorship and surveillance (see L
Anti-corruption blogger Le Anh Hung was committed to a mental institution without
an exam for 12 days in 2013 (see V
In 2013, propaganda officials acknowledged employing 1000 “public opinion shapers”
to manipulate online content (see L
Obstacles to Access (0-25)
Limits on Content (0-35)
Violations of User Rights (0-40)
*0=most free, 100=least free
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Decree 72 governing the management, provision, and use of internet services and information online
was pending on April 30, 2013 when the coverage period for this report ended. Prime Minister
Nguyen Tan Dung signed the decree on July 15, 2013, which subsequently took effect on September
1. The decree stipulated that all service providers operating in the country—including news websites,
social networks, mobile service providers, and game service providers—must have at least one domestic
server for the purposes of “inspection, storage, and provision of information at the request of competent
authorities.” This appears to demand intermediaries to cooperate with any authority in Vietnam
conducting censorship or monitoring, though how it might be enforced is not clear; penalties for
refusing to comply have not been specified.
Other features of the decree were confusing, including sections that appeared to limit social media
platforms from sharing externally-generated content, such as news reports. Vietnamese authorities have
tried to ban political commentary from personal websites in the past, with mixed success, and debate on
homegrown social networks leans towards non-controversial subjects like entertainment, so this far-
reaching interpretation is not outside the realm of possibility. However, some experts noted that this
section was geared towards businesses complaining about copyright violations.
The decree maintained other vaguely-worded bans on content “opposing Vietnam.” As many internet
users know to their cost, however, this is not a dramatic departure from the status quo.
The ruling Vietnamese Communist Party’s concern that the internet could be used to challenge its
political monopoly has resulted in contradictory policies. While investing in information and
communication technologies (ICTs) through programs like its “Taking-Off Strategy 2011–2020,”
the government has intensified monitoring and censorship of online content. After a relative easing
from 2004 to 2006 while Vietnam hosted an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and joined
the World Trade Organization, internet freedom deteriorated, and a growing number of online
activists face harassment and imprisonment.
Reporters Without Borders counted more than 30 bloggers imprisoned in Vietnam on April 30,
2013, making the country the second worst in the world among nations that jail internet users after
Many were political activists, and in some cases, it was difficult to assess to what extent
their arrests were related to online, as opposed to offline, action and expression. Either way, the
number of blogger imprisonments has dramatically increased over the past two years, and penalties
are getting heavier. Several recent trials have resulted in sentences longer than a decade.
“‘Taking‐off Strategy,’ Does it Stepping Up the Development of the ICT Industry in Vietnam?” Business in Asia, accessed June,
Reporters Without Borders, “2013: Netizens Imprisoned,” http://bit.ly/Wsi72Y.
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While the effects of the oppressive Decree 72 on internet management passed in 2013 are yet to be
seen, the decree’s drafting process was revealing. No timeframe for passing the decree was made
public, and there was no open consultation with civil society, technology companies, or other
stakeholders about the many contested provisions. However, both local and international service
providers, as well as the international free expression community, objected to the drafts, and the
final version contained fewer explicit demands on international service providers than many had
feared—a possible sign that the state was willing to compromise to sustain foreign support for the
developing ICT sector. Unfortunately, the implications for the Vietnamese people remain grave.
The decree’s provisions on both content and rights are vague enough to allow free interpretation by
a seemingly limitless number of “relevant organizations and individuals.” Though it did not impact
the coverage period of this report, it bodes ill for internet freedom in the years to come.
Internet penetration slowed in 2012 after years of phenomenal growth fuelled by decreasing costs
and improving infrastructure since the internet was introduced in 1997. Some areas reached
saturation; others suffered from an economic downturn. Available bandwidth grew a modest 10
percent from 2011 to 2012, after a 250 percent increase between 2010 and 2011, according to
Even so, by the end of 2012, internet penetration was above the global average at
and Vietnam ranked 81 on the 2012 International Telecommunication Union’s index
of ICT development, higher than neighboring countries with larger GDPs like Thailand, Indonesia,
and the Philippines.
Vietnam does not report figures for computer literacy, but the 93 percent overall literacy rate has
helped equip the adult population to use computers.
In large cities, the internet has surpassed
newspapers as the most popular source for information.
Wi-Fi connections are free in many urban
spaces such as airports, cafes, restaurants, and hotels. Cybercafés, though affordable for most urban
provide access for just 36 percent of internet users, and almost 90 percent of citizens can
access the internet in their homes and workplaces, 2012 research shows.
While access is more
limited for the 70 percent of the population living in rural areas, with ethnic minorities and remote,
impoverished communities especially disadvantaged, the research documented a remarkable 95
percent of citizens aged 15 to 24 with internet access nationwide. In a country where 54 percent of
the population is under 30 and 75 percent of all internet users are under 35, this is a promising
Vietnam Internet Network Information Center, “Statistics on Internet Development.”
International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000‐2012,” http://bit.ly/14IIykM .
International Telecommunication Union, “Measuring the Information Society,” 2012, http://bit.ly/QfIEtR.
UNICEF, “At a Glance: Vietnam,” accessed July 2013, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/vietnam_statistics.html.
“Tình hình sử dụng Internet tại Việt Nam 2011” [The Situation of Internet Use in Vietnam in 2011], VNVIC, August 3, 2011,
“Việt Nam: 20% không tin tưởng thông tin trên Internet” [Vietnam: 20% Do Not Trust Information on the Internet], PA News,
April 15, 2010, http://news.pavietnam.vn/archives/1547.
We Are Social, “Social, Digital and Mobile in Vietnam,” October 30, 2012, http://bit.ly/Stwb8z.
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Mobile phone penetration was almost 150 percent in 2012, indicating that some subscribers have
more than one device.
Fifty-six percent of users accessed the internet via a mobile device in 2012,
almost double the number in 2011.
A third-generation (3G) network, which enables internet
access via mobile phones, has been operating since the end of 2009, and the number of users is
slowly expanding. By the first quarter of 2012, 3G users were estimated to account for 11 percent
of the overall market.
The three biggest internet service providers (ISPs) are the state-owned Vietnam Post and
Telecommunications (VNPT), which dominates 63 percent of the market; the military-owned
Viettel (9 percent), and the privately owned FPT (22 percent).
VNPT and Viettel also own the
three largest mobile phone service providers in the country (MobiFone, VinaPhone, and Viettel),
which serve 93 percent of the country’s subscriber base, while three privately owned companies
share the remainder.
While there is no legally-imposed monopoly for access providers, informal
barriers still prevent new companies without political ties or economic clout from entering the
market. Similarly, there is a concentration of internet-exchange providers, which serve as gateways
to the international internet: Four out of six are state or military-owned.
The Vietnam Internet Center (VNNIC) allocates internet resources, such as domain names, under
the Ministry of Information and Telecommunication. Three additional ministries—information and
culture (MIC), public security (MPS), and culture, sport, and tourism (MCST)—manage the
provision and usage of internet services. On paper, the MCST regulates sexually explicit and
violent content, while the MPS oversees political censorship. In practice, however, all such
guidelines are issued to relevant bodies by the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party in a largely
nontransparent manner. In 2008, the MIC created the Administrative Agency for Radio,
Television, and Electronic Information. Among other duties, the agency is tasked with regulating
online content, which includes drafting guidelines for blogs and managing licenses for online
The impact of the 2013 internet management decree, which introduced vaguely-worded content
restrictions and sought to increase companies’ liability for implementing them, has yet to be seen.
While its implications are potentially far-reaching, however, it was just the latest in a series of
decrees that heavily restrict political commentary and instill self-censorship in an otherwise diverse
International Telecommunication Union, “Mobile‐Cellular Telephone Subscriptions, 2000‐2012;” Vietnam Post and Telecom
Hanoi, “Việt Nam đã có 136 triệu thuê bao di động,” [Vietnam Has 136 Million Mobile Phone Subscribers], July 2, 2013,
Thankiu, “Cimigo Net Citizens Report 2012,” http://bit.ly/164vsBv.
GSMA Intelligence, “3G growth stalls in Vietnam”, April 2012, http://bit.ly/1azUNmE.
“Thị trường Internet cũng sẽ có những vụ sát nhập?” [Will the Internet Market see Mergers?], ICTNews, September 21,
GSMA Intelligence, “3G growth stalls in Vietnam.”
The four are: VNPT, Viettel, Hanoi Telecom, and VTC.
Geoffrey Cain, “Bloggers the New Rebels in Vietnam,” SFGate, December 14, 2008, http://bit.ly/1bhBy1W .
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and lively blogging community. What’s more, while content limits are nothing new in Vietnam,
online content was increasingly subject to manipulation in the past year, and officials acknowledged
paying commentators for the first time, a sign that information authorities are diversifying their
tactics for controlling popular discourse.
While the Vietnamese government has fewer resources to devote to online content control than its
counterpart in China, the authorities have nonetheless established an effective and increasingly
sophisticated content-filtering system. Censorship is implemented by ISPs rather than at the
backbone or international gateway level. No real-time filtering based on keywords or deep-packet
inspection has been documented. Instead, specific URLs are identified in advance as targets for
censorship and placed on blacklists; ISPs are legally required to block them or lose their license.
Some users report being notified that a censored site has been deliberately blocked, while others
receive a vague error message saying the browser was unable to locate the website’s server.
Censorship ostensibly limits sexually explicit content. In practice, however, it primarily targets
topics with the potential to threaten the VCP’s political power, including political dissent, human
rights and democracy. Websites criticizing the government’s reaction to border and sea disputes
between China and Vietnam are subject to blocking. Content promoting organized Buddhism,
Roman Catholicism, and the Cao Dai religious group is blocked to a lesser but still significant
Vietnamese sites critical of the government are generally inaccessible, whether they are
hosted overseas, such as Talawas, Dan Luan, and Dan Chim Viet, or domestically, like Dan Lam Bao
and Anh Ba Sam.
Censors largely focus on Vietnamese-language content, so the New York Times and Human Rights
Watch websites are accessible, while the U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese-language site is
not; BBC websites are accessible in English but not Vietnamese. Blocking is not consistent across
ISPs. A 2012 OpenNet Initiative test of 1,446 sites found Viettel blocked 160 URLs, while FPT
blocked 121, and VNPT only 77.
There is no avenue for managers of blocked websites to appeal
The unpredictable and nontransparent ways in which topics become forbidden make it difficult for
users to know where exactly the “red lines” lie, and many self-censor. Bloggers and forum
administrators commonly disable commenting functions to prevent controversial discussions.
Online media outlets and internet portals are state-owned and subject to VCP censorship. The
party’s Department for Culture and Ideology and the MPS regularly instruct online newspapers or
portals to remove content they perceive as critical of the government. Editors and journalists who
post such content risk disciplinary warnings, job loss, or imprisonment.
“Vietnamese Government Expands Internet Censorship to Block Catholic Websites,” Catholic News Agency, August 6, 2009,
OpenNet Initiative, “Update on Threats to Freedom of Expression Online in Vietnam”, September 10, 2012,
REEDOM ON THE
Since 2008, a series of regulations have extended controls on traditional media content to the
online sphere. In December of that year, the state passed Decree 97 and MIC Circular 7 ordering
blogs to refrain from political or social commentary and barred internet users from disseminating
press articles, literary works, or other publications prohibited by the Press Law.
platforms were instructed to remove this “harmful” content, report to the government every six
months, and provide information about individual bloggers upon request.
Censorship of anti-
government content increased, though blogs hosted overseas were unaffected. A decree followed in
2011, giving authorities power to penalize journalists and bloggers for a series of ill-defined
infractions, including publishing under a pseudonym. The decree differentiated sharply between
journalists accredited by the government and independent bloggers, who are allowed far fewer
rights and protections.
The Decree on the Management, Provision, Use of Internet Services and Internet Content Online,
introduced by the MIC in May 2012 and passed just over a year later, extends this repressive
trajectory by further regulating domestic internet use and replacing “blogs” with a broader
definition of “social networks” to encompassing a range of online platforms.
Article 5 limited
overbroad categories of online activity including “opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,”
inciting violence, revealing state secrets, and providing false information.
The decree sought to force intermediaries—including those based overseas—to regulate third-
party contributors in cooperation with the state. Vietnamese authorities have acknowledged this
goal in the past. The deputy minister of information and communications said he would request
Google and Yahoo cooperate with censors as early as 2008;
yet the new decree asks all social
network operators to “eliminate or prevent information” prohibited under Article 5. It also
mandated that companies maintain at least one domestic server “serving the inspection, storage,
and provision of information at the request of competent authorities.” Social networks were further
instructed to “provide personal information of the users related to terrorism, crimes, and violations
of law” on request. It did not outline what penalties non-compliant companies could face, and how
the decree might be enforced remains unclear. It came into effect after the coverage period of this
OpenNet Initiative, “Vietnam,” August 7, 2012, https://opennet.net/research/profiles/vietnam; The Government, “Decree No
97/2008/ND‐CP of August 28, 2008,” Official Gazette 11‐12, August 2008,
http://english.mic.gov.vn/vbqppl/Lists/Vn%20bn%20QPPL/Attachments/6159/31236373.PDF; Ministry of Information and
Communications, “Circular No. 07/2008/TT‐BTTTT of December 18, 2008,” Official Gazette 6‐7, January 2009,
Karin Deutsch Karlekar, ed., “Vietnam,” Freedom of the Press 2009 (New York: Freedom House, 2009).
Article 19, “Comment on the Decree No. 02 of 2011 on Administrative Responsibility for Press and Publication Activities of
the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” June 2011,
for‐pr.pdf; “Decree 02/2011/ND‐CP” [in Vietnamese], January 6, 2011, available at Committee to Protect Journalists,
“Decree No. 72/2013/ND‐CP, dated July 15, 2013 of the Government on Management, Provision and Use of Internet Services
and Online Information,” Luật Minh Khuê, http://luatminhkhue.vn/copyright/decree‐no‐72‐2013‐nd‐cp.aspx.
Ann Binlot, “Vietnam’s Bloggers Face Government Crackdown,” Time, December 30, 2008,
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