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less well-documented, but may well have contributed to the charges against the group, which
included participating in “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
sentence given was 3 years prison followed by 2 years house arrest, while at least three were jailed
for 13 years with 3 years house arrest.
Arrests continued to be reported during the coverage period. In October 2012, police detained
two students, Nguyen Phuong Uyen, 21, and Dinh Nguyen Kha, 25, for disseminating anti-
governmental materials in public places and online; they were jailed for 6 and 10 years respectively
in May 2013.
Respected lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan was also arrested in December 2012,
shortly after the BBC Vietnamese service published one of his articles on its website; his trial
The longest-serving blogger in prison in 2013 was Nguyen Van Hai, a vocal critic of the
government’s human rights record and an advocate for Vietnamese sovereignty over the Spratly
Islands, also known by the title of his blog, Dieu Cay. He was sentenced in late 2008 to two and a
half years in prison on tax evasion charges that observers viewed as politically motivated.
completing that term, authorities kept him in detention until September 2012,
when a new trial
court sentenced him to an additional 12 years in prison and 5 years under house arrest for “activities
against the government.”
Two others were sentenced at the same trial: Phan Thanh Hai, who
blogged as Anh Ba Sai Gon and was arrested in late 2010 on the charge of distributing false
information on his website, was sentenced to three years, while Ta Phong Tan, a former female
police officer turned social justice blogger arrested in September 2011 for blog posts that allegedly
“denigrated the state,” was jailed for ten.
Ta Phong Tan’s mother committed suicide by setting
herself on fire outside of the local People’s Committee building to protest against her daughter’s
trial. Others serving long term sentences in 2013 include one of Vietnam’s most vocal online
dissidents, Cu Ha Huy Vu, who is serving a sentence of seven years in prison and three years house
arrest handed down in a 2011 trial that barred access to the public and media.
In addition to imprisonment, bloggers and online activists have been subjected to physical attacks,
job loss, termination of personal internet services, travel restrictions, and other violations of their
Seth Mydans, “Activists Convicted in Vietnam Crackdown on Dissent,” New York Times, January 9, 2013,
“Long Prison Terms For “Dissident” Vietnam Bloggers,” Global Voices Online, January 12, 2013,
“Nguyễn Phương Uyên bị phạt 6 năm tù, Đinh Nguyên Kha 10 năm tù” [Nguyen Phuong Uyen Sentenced to 6 Years, Dinh
Nguyen Kha to 10 Years Prison], Thanh Nien, May 16, 2013, http://www.thanhnien.com.vn/pages/20130516/nguyen‐phuong‐
Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Drop Charges Against Le Quoc Quan,” July 8, 2013,
Human Rights Watch, “Banned, Censored, Harassed and Jailed,” news release, October 11, 2009,
Committee to Protect Journalists, “2012 Prison Census: Vietnam,” accessed May, 2013, http://cpj.org/imprisoned/2012.php.
“Y án với Điếu Cày và Tạ Phong Tần” [Sentences uphold for Dieu Cay and Ta Phong Tan], BBC Vietnamese, December 28,
“An Odd Online Relationship,” Economist (Blog), August 9, 2012,
Reporters Without Borders, “Prime Minister Urged to Free All Imprisoned Bloggers and Journalists,” September 1, 2011,
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rights. Blogger Nguyen Hoang Vi reported that the police forcibly stripped and sexually assaulted
her after she tried to attend Dieu Cay and his co-defendants’ December 2012 appeal hearing.
February, Le Anh Hung, whose blog accused high-ranking Vietnamese leaders of corruption, was
detained in a mental institution for 12 days, without a medical examination.
Vietnamese authorities monitor online communications and dissident activity on the web and in
real time. Cybercafé owners are required to install special software to track and store information
about their clients’ online activities,
and the 2013 internet management decree holds cybercafé
owners responsible if their customers are caught surfing “bad” websites.
Citizens must also
provide ISPs with government-issued documents when purchasing a home internet connection. In
late 2009, the MIC announced that all prepaid mobile phone subscribers would be required to
register their ID details with the operator, and individuals are allowed to register only up to three
numbers per carrier.
As of early 2013, however, the registration process is not linked to any
central database and could be easily circumvented using fake ID numbers.
is not required to blog or post online comments, and many Vietnamese do so anonymously.
Decree 72 may change that, and its privacy implications attracted concern throughout the year
before it took effect. As outlined above, all providers and social networks in particular, are ordered
to provide user information to “competent authorities” on request, but with no real procedures or
oversight to discourage intrusive registration or data collection.
Users themselves were given the
ambiguous right to “have their personal information kept confidential in accordance with law.”
Other sections gestured in the direction of improved information security by encouraging providers
of online information to “deploy technical systems and techniques.” Unfortunately, implementation
of these nebulous provisions is left to the discretion of “ministers, heads of ministerial agencies,
heads of governmental agencies, the presidents of people’s committees of central-affiliated cities
and provinces, relevant organizations and individuals” under the guidance of the minister of
information and communications, leaving anonymous and private communication subject to
invasion from almost any authority in Vietnam in the coming years.
Blogger harassment has coincided with systematic cyberattacks targeting individual blogs as well as
websites run by other activists in Vietnam and abroad that were first documented in September
The worst of these occurred in 2010 and involved dozens of sites, including those operated
Nguyen Hoang Vi, “What happened on the day of the Appeal Hearing for the members of The Free Journalist Network,” Dan
Lam Bao, January 2013, http://danlambaovn.blogspot.com/2013/01/what‐happened‐on‐day‐of‐appeal‐
“Blogger Le Anh Hung duoc tha ve nha” [Blogger Le Anh Hung released], BBC Vietnamese, February 5, 2013,
“Internet Censorship Tightening in Vietnam,” Asia News, June 22, 2010, http://www.asianews.it/news‐en/Internet‐
OpenNet Initiative, “Update on Threats.”
Phong Quan, “Sim Card Registration Now Required in Vietnam,” Vietnam Talking Points, January 16, 2010,
“Quản lý thuê bao di động trả trước: Chuyện không dễ,” [Managing Prepaid Mobile Subscribers Isn’t Easy], Vinhphuc, January
14, 2013, http://www.vinhphuc.vn/ct/cms/Convert/thihanhpl/Lists/tintuc/View_Detail.aspx?ItemID=10.
“Decree No. 72/2013/ND‐CP.”
Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Stop Cyber Attacks Against Online Critics,” news release, May 26, 2010,
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by Catholics who criticize government confiscation of church property, forums featuring political
discussions, and a website raising environmental concerns about bauxite mining.
infected computers with malicious software disguised as a popular keyboard program allowing
Microsoft Windows to support the Vietnamese language. Once infected, computers became part of
a “botnet,” or network whose command-and-control servers were primarily accessed from internet
protocol (IP) addresses inside Vietnam. Hackers manipulated that network to carry out denial-of-
service (DoS) attacks, according to independent investigations by the internet security firm McAfee
and Google. Google’s report estimated that “potentially tens of thousands of computers” were
affected, most belonging to Vietnamese speakers.
McAfee stated that “the perpetrators may have
political motivations, and may have some allegiance to the government of the Socialist Republic of
The Vietnamese authorities—who have proudly advertised their ability to destroy
“‘bad’ websites and blogs”
—took no steps to find or punish the attackers.
In 2012 and 2013, hackers continued to target a handful important alternative blogs, including Anh
Ba Sam and Que Choa.
It is now common practice for sites to post a list of alternative URLs in case
the current one is hacked.
“Authorities Crush Online Dissent; Activists Detained Incommunicado,” Free News Free Speech (blog), June 2, 2010,
George Kurtz, “Vietnamese Speakers Targeted in Cyberattack,” CTO (Blog), March 30, 2010,
http://siblog.mcafee.com/cto/vietnamese‐speakers‐targeted‐in‐cyberattack/; Neel Mehta, “The Chilling Effect of Malware,”
Google Online Security Blog, March 30, 2010, http://googleonlinesecurity.blogspot.com/2010/03/chilling‐effects‐of‐
Kurtz, “Vietnamese Speakers Targeted in Cyberattack.”
Human Rights Watch, “Vietnam: Stop Cyber Attacks Against Online Critics.”
David Brown, “Mysterious Attack on a Vietnamese Blog,” Asia Sentinel, March 18, 2013,
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There were no reports of internet content being blocked or filtered during the coverage
period, though various ruling party officials publicly expressed the desire to increase
control over ICTs, particularly in the lead-up to the July 2013 general elections (see
An anonymous Facebook user with the pseudonym “Baba Jukwa” became a social media
sensation for his posts exposing supposed secrets from within the ZANU-PF ruling
party, in addition to his naming and shaming campaign against corrupt party officials
Two mobile phone users were arrested for allegedly sending text messages that insulted
the president (see V
An investigative report in early 2013 uncovered evidence of a “massive” cyber training
program for Zimbabwean security agents facilitated by Iranian intelligence organizations
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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Zimbabwe’s 2013 internet freedom status
developments in the country from May 1, 2012 to
April 31, 2013, which are covered in this report. However, the July 2013 general elections entailed a
number of events that directly impacted the country’s internet freedom landscape.
The 2013 political contestations in Zimbabwe were likely the most internet-fueled elections to date, as
various parties took to social media to campaign and promote their platforms in advance of the general
elections that occurred on July 31, 2013. All major political parties had a presence on Facebook and
and leading political figures used the internet to engage with citizens both in Zimbabwe and
the diaspora on a daily basis. Social media was also widely used to encourage citizens to vote and
counter electoral corruption, among other issues, while numerous websites were launched to monitor
At the time of writing in August 2013, there were no reports of internet content being blocked, or of
online users arrested for their activities related to the elections, though the sensational popularity of
the anonymous Facebook user, Baba Jukwa, elicited a desire by the ruling party to crackdown against
individuals using social media to express criticism against the government (see “Limits on Content”).
Despite the lack of internet censorship, in the week leading up to the July 31 elections, the
telecommunications regulator POTRAZ reportedly issued a directive to the private mobile phone
provider, Econet, to block the dissemination of bulk SMS messages sent through its international
Meanwhile, the independent community radio station, Radio Dialogue, reported frequent
internet disconnections in its office, and internet café owners reported slow internet connectivity.
While the government’s hand behind the disruptions could not be confirmed, state control over two of
the country’s five international gateways, as well as the state’s ability to issue directives to private
telecom providers, increase the likelihood of deliberate government interference.
Zimbabwe has witnessed an upsurge in internet use, and despite the country’s recent history of
political instability and economic volatility, the past two years have seen a sizeable investment in
the ICT sector, which had largely been stagnant over the previous decade. In 2012 and early 2013,
access to ICTs remained nominally free from direct government interference with the exception of
Free & Fair Zimbabwe Election’s Facebook page, accessed August 1, 2013,
“In Heavy Zimbabwe Voting, No Repeat of Disastrous 2008 Events,” New York Times, July 31, 2013, http://nyti.ms/1aFwwvn.
Cris Chinaka, “Cat‐and‐Mouse in Zimbabwe’s Election Cyber War,” Reuters, July 26, 2013,
Brandon Gregory, “Zimbabwe Authorities Block Award Winning SMS Service for ‘Political Reasons,’” Humanipo, July 30, 2013,
George Mpofu and Nicolette Zulu, “FFZE: Zim Internet, Phones ‘Jammed’ Day Ahead of Vote,” Free & Fair Zimbabwe Election,
July 30, 2013, http://zimbabweelection.com/2013/07/30/ffze‐zim‐internet‐phones‐jammed‐day‐ahead‐of‐vote/.
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the July 2013 elections period, though the relative openness is more likely due to a lack of
resources to affect control than a lack of intention.
As Zimbabwe’s internet community, both local and in the diaspora, has become more assertive in
discussing socioeconomic and political issues online, the Zimbabwean African National Union–
Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ruling party under President Robert Mugabe has become increasingly
concerned about the internet’s ability to mobilize political opposition, particularly the Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) under Morgan Tsvangirai. Accordingly, ZANU-PF officials made
several public demands to stop what it calls the “abuse” of information and communication
technologies (ICTs) in 2012.
Meanwhile, two citizens were arrested in the past year for sending
text messages on their mobile phones that allegedly insulted the president.
Zimbabwe’s new constitution was enacted in May 2013, giving freedom of expression a boost both
on and offline through its provisions on freedom of the press, access to government information, as
well as protection for sources of information. Such guarantees, however, are likely to be nominal,
given the ruling party’s trend of taking extralegal actions against Zimbabwean citizens. Further,
state security officials continue to have the authority to monitor and intercept ICT communications
at will, and an investigative report revealed in early 2013 that Zimbabwean security agencies have
been receiving cyber training assistance from Iranian intelligence organizations since 2007.
Internet access has continued to expand in Zimbabwe, growing from a penetration rate of nearly 16
percent in 2011 to over 17 percent in 2012, according to the International Telecommunications
This figure, however, may not reflect the growing number of users who are
accessing the web on their mobile devices. Research from June 2012 indicated that about 70
percent of Zimbabwean internet users are logging online via mobile phones,
which likely accounts
for the rapid spike in mobile phone penetration from 72 percent in 2011 to nearly 97 percent in
Similar to most countries in Africa, Zimbabwe benefits from low-cost, internet-enabled imitation
mobile phones from Asia. Internet access on mobile phones has been further facilitated by the
introduction of 3G, 4G and EDGE technology in the past few years.
The decreasing price of
mobile internet access—which dropped from $1.50 per megabyte (MB) in 2011 to $1 per MB as of
May 2013—has also facilitated increased access. Subscription fees for 3G services have gone down
Everson Mushava, “Technology a Security Threat: Sekeremayi,” Newsday, May 9, 2013,
International Telecommunication Union, “Percentage of Individuals Using the Internet, 2000‐2012,”
Brian Gondo, “Insights into Zim Internet Usage,” Techzim, June 12, 2012, http://www.techzim.co.zw/2012/06/insights‐into‐
International Telecommunication Union,”Mobile‐Cellular Telephone Subscriptions, 2000‐2012.”
EDGE is a faster version of the globally used GSM mobile standard.
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to $30 per month for 10 GB, and other services providers are offering 3G services on a pay-as-you-
go basis for as little as $0.10 per MB.
While mobile access to the internet has become increasingly affordable, fixed-line internet
subscriptions cost $30-$40 per month (including installation fees) and remain expensive for many
Zimbabweans who earn an average monthly wage of approximately $180.
competition among service providers is slowly bringing down prices. For example, the cost of
wireless 3G modems has decreased from $60 to $30 and is accessible on prepaid wireless access
devices. Computer prices have also declined from an average of $600 in 2011 to between $350 and
$450 in 2012.
Although competition has decreased the cost of broadband internet access, effective broadband for
home and individual users has not been realized due to the poor infrastructure of the state-owned
fixed-line operator, TelOne. Nonetheless, both the public and private sectors have invested in
expanding coverage to other parts of the country. Presenting the 2013 budget in late 2012, Finance
Minister Tendai Biti stated that $26 million had been spent on Zimbabwe’s fiber-optic cable system
since 2009, which included the Harare-Bulawayo fiber-optic link that was completed in 2012.
TelOne was also connected to Namibia Telcom’s fiber cable near the border towns of Victoria Falls
and Katima Mulilo in 2012. Meanwhile, other licensed data carriers are continually rolling out
fiber-optic networks across the country and establishing links to international undersea cables,
leading to expanding penetration.
By the end of 2012, Zimbabwe’s largest private telecoms
provider, Econet, reported that it had expanded its broadband customer base by 75 percent, with
its GSM and WiMAX (voice and data) services covering nearly 80 percent of the country.
Most Zimbabweans access the internet in cybercafes, which have experienced a resurgence since
2010 when the country’s economic situation began to improve. Recent ICT investments have also
encouraged the reopening of cybercafes in the country’s urban centers, in addition to the rising
demand for cheaper communication tools such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP)
which has been fueled by the growing expatriate population of Zimbabweans seeking
to stay in touch with friends and family back home.
Despite the expanding penetration of ICTs across the country, there remains a significant urban-
rural divide in access to both internet and mobile technologies, particularly as a result of major
infrastructural limitations in rural areas, such as poor roads and electricity distribution. A
Zimbabwe All Media Products and Services Survey released in September 2012 found that 41
“Survey to Assist Policymakers: Zimstat,” The Herald via AllAfrica, April 19, 2013,
Tonderai Rutsito, “Fibre Optic: 2012 Newsmaker,” The Herald, January 9, 2013, http://www.herald.co.zw/fibre‐optic‐2012‐
BuddeComm, “Zimbabwe – Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband,” accessed July 31, 2013,
Tawanda Karombo, “Econet Revenue and Broadband Users Surge,” ITWebAfrica, October 26, 2012,
“Econet Wireless launches VoiP,” TeleGeography, January 26, 2012,
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percent of adults living in urban centers are using the internet,
with 83 percent of users accessing
the web at least once a month. By contrast, an official government report estimates rural internet
penetration to be 22 percent, though this figure is likely inflated given the national penetration rate
of 17 percent according to the latest ITU data.
The government has endeavored to transform rural postal centers into ICT access points where
internet services would be provided, but this initiative has yet to be fully realized. Even in urban
areas, electricity is regularly rationed for six to seven hours a day, leading to uneven access to the
internet and mobile phone service. Power outages affect not only households but also business
entities such as cybercafes, while prolonged power blackouts often affect mobile telephony signal
transmission equipment, resulting in cut-offs of both mobile networks and internet connections.
Zimbabwe currently has 28 licensed internet access providers (IAPs) and 128 internet service
the former of which offer only internet access while ISPs may provide additional
services. However, ISP connections are constrained by the limited infrastructure of IAPs through
which they must connect. As set by the telecoms regulator, the Postal and Telecommunications
Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), the license fees for IAPs and ISPs range from $2-4
million, depending on the type of service to be provided, and must be vetted and approved by the
regulator prior to installation.
Providers must also pay 3.5 percent of their annual gross income to
POTRAZ. Application fees for operating a mobile phone service in Zimbabwe are also steep, and in
2013, the regulator increased the license fees for mobile networks from $100 million to $180
There are no stringent fees or regulations that hinder the establishment of cybercafés.
While POTRAZ handles the official licensing process for telecoms, insider reports have revealed
that the Zimbabwean military may be involved in screening and approving license applications,
demonstrating that ICTs are regarded as a security matter for the state. There nevertheless have
been no reports of harassment or license denials on the basis of political affiliation. Otherwise,
internet access prices in Zimbabwe are set by ISPs and cybercafe owners and have thus far been free
from state intervention. Individual ISPs submit tariff proposals to POTRAZ, which approves
proposals on a per case basis.
Zimbabwe currently has five international gateways for internet and voice traffic, two of which are
operated by the state-owned fixed network, TelOne, and mobile network, NetOne. The private
mobile operators—Econet, TeleCel and Africom—operate the other three international
Zimbabwe All Media Products Survey, Research International Bureau, Harare September, Third Quarter Report, 2012.
Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association membership list, http://www.zispa.org.zw/members.html.
L.S.M Kabweza, “Zimbabwe Raises Telecoms Licence Fees, Migrates to Converged Licensing,” TechZim, March 12, 2013,
M. Kadzere, “Mobile License Fees Raised,” The Herald via AllAfrica, March 12, 2013,
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested