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Cablegate: Many Vietnamese Youth Trust Big Brother to Monitor The

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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0790
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RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 0001
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 0049
RUEHVN/AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE 0091

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000090

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM EINT PGOV SOCI VM
SUBJECT: Many Vietnamese Youth Trust Big Brother to Monitor the
Internet

REF: A: STATE 4203; B: 09 HANOI 909

1. (SBU) Summary: During a wide-ranging discussion at the American
Center in Hanoi following the airing of the Secretary's speech on
internet freedom (Ref A) several participants parroted the Party
line that the internet could be used to spread information that is
harmful to Vietnamese society and should therefore be blocked.
Others, however, offered a contrary view, complaining that there is
no true freedom of speech in Vietnam. A similar range of views were
expressed on the broader topic of the media, with some participants
supporting some degree of government censorship in the name of
social order and others voicing frustration at the lack of press
freedom. Most participants agreed that censorship of social
networking and foreign news sites is wrong and expressed disbelief
that the government would read their private e-mail correspondence.
"The line between freedom and censorship is always moving in
Vietnam," one participant noted. Most participants said they had
access to high-speed internet at home and spend an average of 3-5
hours a day online. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On Friday January 22, approximately 40 Vietnamese young
people (ranging between the ages 20-30) gathered at the American
Center in Hanoi to watch clips from the Secretary's speech on
Internet Freedom and discuss how the topic related specifically to
Vietnam. After showing about 30 minutes of the speech, including a
number of segments critical of Vietnam, the Embassy's Human Rights
Officer led a discussion about the role of the internet in the
lives of Vietnamese youth and what involvement -- if any -- the
government should have in monitoring and censoring its content.

3. (SBU) Expecting the audience to be reserved and hesitant to
comment on such a sensitive topic, Poloff began with a series of
questions relating to internet access and common web activities.
Most of the audience said that they have high-speed ADSL
connections in their homes. Those who don't rely on internet cafes
and their college campuses to go online. The majority of the
audience said they have g-mail or yahoo e-mail addresses and spend
an average of three to five hours a day online chatting with
friends, e-mailing, gaming, catching up on pop culture, and
blogging.

3. (SBU) Participants offered various opinions as to why Facebook
remained blocked in Vietnam (Ref B). Some blamed "technical
difficulties," while others acknowledged that the government was
likely the source of the problem. All participants expressed
dissatisfaction with the current situation, and noted that they use
work-arounds to maintain their Facebook pages. The participants
were nearly unanimous that they would not to convert from Facebook
to locally hosted social networking tools like zing.com; many
laughed at the prospect. (Note: At the start of the event, there
was a small celebration to commemorate the American Center's
Facebook page exceeding the mark of 1,000 fans in just over a
month's time. The speed of reaching 1,000 fans is notable given
that the Facebook homepage has remained blocked in Vietnam
throughout this time period. End Note.)

4. (SBU) There was a long pause when Poloff asked what type of
content should be allowed on the internet. Eventually a young man
asserted that politically sensitive content and pornography should
be censored, arguing that it is permissible to oppose GVN policies
but not specific policymakers. Another participant added that the
GVN does not have hard and fast rules on internet censorship, but
that every citizen should recognize the impact their online
comments could have and should therefore be "constructive."

HANOI 00000090 002 OF 002


5. (SBU) Another young man offered a dissenting opinion, however,
arguing that because the government controls all forms of media,
Vietnam's citizens don't have the chance to raise their voices. "I
am very frustrated," he continued, lamenting that "We are all
missing out on good opportunities." He specifically asked what the
U.S. Embassy could do to "improve the situation." Poloff noted the
Department organizes public discussion sessions and also works
behind the scenes in meetings such as the annual Human Rights
Dialogue with Vietnam to raise its concerns related to free speech.
A third young participant countered that most Vietnamese are easy
going and very satisfied with life as provided by the government,
which ranks as one of the highest in the world. Vietnam's
government, he insisted -- becoming less laid back -- does not
limit the voice of its people; rather, some people "abuse their
rights" and are threats to the government that the government is
correct to suppress. Still another participant cautioned that
"chaos" would ensue if people were allowed to openly criticize the
government. "Change should happen slowly," he averred, adding that
freedom of speech should be "restricted sometimes." Another
individual commented that the line between censorship and internet
freedom is not fixed, insisting with disapproval that it is "OK in
the U.S. to slander another person and post pornography on the
internet."

6. (SBU) Poloff pushed the participants on this point, asking
whether it was permissible to voice opposition to GVN economic
policies and whether the government should be allowed to read
personal e-mail or text messages. Most bristled at the idea of the
Government blocking news sites and blogs that do not comment on
political news and reading their private messages. Many expressed
shock when Poloff said that the Government of China routinely
blocks internet sites such as Facebook, Youtube, Twitter and the
New York Times. Most participants said that Vietnam should not
follow China's example. Poloff shared the story of leading
dissident Dr. Pham Hong Son, who was jailed from 2002 - 2006 for
translating and posting online a State Department pamphlet entitled
"What is Democracy" from the Embassy's homepage. Most participants
said they had not heard of Dr. Son, and expressed disbelief that he
would imprisoned for such an activity.

7. (SBU) Comment: The fact that such a wide-ranging discussion
occurred, following the airing of a speech at times critical of the
GVN's actions, is notable in itself. While participants articulated
a variety of opinions, all said that they depend on the internet to
remain in touch with the larger world. While several vocal
participants proclaimed that they had no problem with the
government censoring political content, most expressed apprehension
when confronted with more specific questions about the government's
role in censoring news media and personal blogging and rejected as
illegitimate the notion that security services could be reading
their own e-mails. Most participants acknowledged the importance
of a free media in fighting corruption and environmental
degradation. Of the quarter of the participants that offered views,
the group appeared evenly divided between those who supported the
Secretary's message and those that argued in defense of Vietnam's
position. To conclude the event, PAS Officer noted that the
attendees had just participated in the exercise of free speech and
hoped that they would see the benefit of this type of open
exchange.
Michalak

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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