Two popular Web sites blocked in Vietnam

Associated Press: February 11, 2010

Two pioneering Web sites that stretched the limits of free expression in Vietnam say they have been hacked and shut down, just months after the communist government blocked the social networking site Facebook.

Both sites had been critical of Vietnam’s policies toward China, a subject of great sensitivity to the government, whose efforts to maintain good relations with its massive northern neighbor sometimes run afoul of nationalist sentiment.

But both sites were generally restrained in tone, and neither had called for an end to Vietnam’s single-party system.

The sites’ problems arose in the midst of Vietnam’s latest crackdown on dissent, which has seen 16 democracy activists jailed in just over three months.

The government has not responded to questions about the Web sites submitted earlier this week by The Associated Press.

But shortly after Vietnam began blocking Facebook in November, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga declared that Vietnam would take “appropriate action” against Web sites that it believes threaten national security. The government did not specifically acknowledge shutting down Facebook, but two Internet service providers said they had been ordered to block the site.

One of the recently closed sites,, was shut down earlier this week, according to its author, Huy Duc, a Ho Chi Minh City blogger who wrote under the pen name “Osin,” which, loosely translated, means “housekeeper.” He often campaigned against corruption and lampooned bureaucratic incompetence.

The second site,, was founded last year by three men who oppose the government’s plans to open a giant bauxite mine in Vietnam’s strategically sensitive Central Highlands.

The bauxite site’s manager, Nguyen Hue Chi, said he has been playing an online cat-and-mouse game with unknown hackers since December, when the site was first blocked. Last month, he moved it to a new Web address, but it was recently hacked again. It is now accessible at yet another address that Chi recently established.

Duc lost his job at the Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper last August after posting a piece on the Osin site that praised the fall of the Berlin Wall and criticized the former Soviet Union’s communist leaders.

From the time it opened last year until it was closed in December, the Bauxite site had drawn more than 17 million hits from readers concerned about the government’s mining plans.

Vietnam has hired a Chinese company to build the plant to process bauxite taken from the mines and hundreds of Chinese are reportedly working there.

Vietnam has some of the world’s largest reserves of bauxite, the primary ingredient in aluminum. The government has argued that the mine would bring economic benefits to the impoverished Central Highlands.

Opponents say the project would cause major environmental problems and have raised the specter of Chinese workers flooding into the strategically sensitive region. Among them is the legendary 98-year-old Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, who expelled French and U.S. troops from Vietnam.

Giap’s photograph is prominently featured on the bauxite Web site.

Suspicion of China runs deep in Vietnam, which has a long history of conflict with its northern neighbor.

The two countries fought a bloody border war in 1979 and they have ongoing disputes about two archipelagoes in the South China Sea, the Spratlys and the Paracels.

Like Osin, bloggers on the bauxite site have argued that the Vietnamese government has not taken a tough enough stand against China.

During an interview last summer, Chi said the founders established the site because the dispute over the bauxite mine had been largely ignored by Vietnam’s state-controlled media.

Chi, whose grandfather was friends with Vietnam’s revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh, stressed that he wanted to work with the Communist Party, not replace it.

He expressed confidence that the government would gradually ease restrictions on expression.

“The right to independent thought and free expression is enshrined in the Vietnamese constitution,” Chi said.

Vietnam: Expanding Campaign to Silence Dissent

Award-Winning Writers Put on Trial for Seeking Peaceful Reforms

Human Rights Watch: February 4, 2010

The Vietnamese government should immediately drop all charges and free the prominent writer and democracy activist Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, Human Rights Watch said today. She is to be put on trial February 5, 2010, on assault charges after thugs attacked and beat her in front of her home, as undercover police looked on.

Tran Khai Thanh Thuy and Pham Thanh Nghien, who was sentenced to prison on January 29 on charges of disseminating anti-government propaganda, are both recipients of the prestigious Hellman/Hammett award, which honors writers who have been victims of political persecution.

“Courageous women such as Tran Khai Thanh Thuy and Pham Thanh Nghien face years behind bars rather than being able to contribute to the country’s development,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “When will the Vietnamese government stop locking up peaceful activists who simply have different ideas and the courage to express them?”

In defense of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s crackdown on dissent, the party’s general secretary, Nong Duc Manh, said on February 2, “We struggle against all the … hostile forces by preventing them from profiting from…democracy, human rights, multi-partyism and pluralism to sabotage the Vietnamese revolution.”

The trials of the two women are the latest in a recent string of political trials of dissidents arrested during 2009. At least 17 dissidents have been sentenced to prison since October.

“None of these activists should be in prison,” Adams said. “They are being targeted for their legitimate and peaceful activities as human rights defenders, democracy campaigners, dissident writers and political bloggers.”

An established novelist and political essayist, Ms. Thuy, 50, was arrested the evening of October 8, 2009. Earlier that day, police stopped her from travelling to Hai Phong to attend the trials of fellow dissidents. They ordered her to return to her home in Hanoi, where that evening she and her husband were harassed and attacked by thugs.

Ms. Thuy, who suffered injuries to her head and neck, was arrested after the attack and detained at Dong Da police station in Hanoi on charges of “intentionally inflicting injury on or causing harm to the health of other persons” under article 104 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. On October 19, she was moved to Hoa Lu prison in Hanoi. Since her arrest, her family has been denied contact with Ms. Thuy, who suffers from diabetes and tuberculosis.

Ms. Thuy has played a key role in Vietnam’s besieged democracy movement. In 2006, she started an association for victims of land confiscation (Hoi Dan Oan Viet Nam), helped found the Independent Workers’ Union of Vietnam, and joined the editorial board of the pro-democracy bulletin To Quoc (Fatherland), which is printed clandestinely in Vietnam and circulated on the internet.  Up until five weeks before her last arrest, she was also an active blogger (still available online at:

Since emerging as an activist in 2006, Ms. Thuy has been repeatedly denounced and humiliated in public meetings organized by the authorities, including a “People’s Court” in 2006, at which  police gathered 300 people in a public stadium to insult her. In November 2006 she was dismissed from her job as a journalist and placed under house arrest to bar her from meeting with international journalists and diplomats attending the Asian Pacific Cooperation Summit in Hanoi. In April 2007 she was arrested and held incommunicado for more than nine months at B-14 Detention Center in Hanoi. After her release in January 2008, she continued to encounter relentless harassment from police, local officials, and orchestrated neighborhood gangs.

During 2009, for example, thugs attacked her house at least 14 times, throwing excrement and dead rodents at her gate. They also inserted metal into her front door lock on two occasions, locking her out of her own home. When she went to the police to file a complaint, they refused to take any action, even though neighbors reported that police were watching during some of the attacks on her home.

“Charging the victim of a beating with assault is yet another example of Vietnam’s Kafkaesque efforts to silence government critics,” Adams said. “The thugs who attacked her, the people who sent them, and the police officers who refused to intervene should all be brought to justice.”

Ms. Nghien, 33, a writer and democracy campaigner, was sentenced by the Haiphong Court on January 29 to four years in prison followed by three years under house arrest on charges of spreading anti-government propaganda under article 88 of the penal code. As with Ms. Thuy, Ms. Nghien’s family has not been allowed to visit her since her arrest in September 2008.

In 2007, when the wool company where Ms. Nghien worked went bankrupt, she began doing advocacy work on behalf of landless farmers and writing articles calling for human rights and democracy. In July, 2007, authorities barred her from attending the trial of her close friend, the democracy campaigner Le Thi Cong Nhan. After that, Ms. Nghien was repeatedly harassed by the police, who regularly summoned her for aggressive questioning.

In June 2008, Ms. Nghien was detained after signing a letter with fellow activists requesting authorization from the Public Security Ministry to organize a peaceful demonstration against China’s claims to the Spratley and Paracel islands.  A few days later, she was attacked and beaten by thugs, who threatened her life if she continued “hostile actions” against the state. In September 2008, she was arrested along with other democracy activists during a government crackdown that aimed to prevent planned anti-China protests at the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi.

Human Rights Watch called on Vietnamese authorities to guarantee the physical and psychological well-being of both women in prison, including providing needed medication and medical treatment and allowing for regular family visits. Human Rights Watch has documented systematic use of torture of political prisoners in Vietnam, including beatings, electric shock, confinement in solitary, dark cells, and prolonged shackling.

Human Rights Watch noted that the victims of the government’s crackdown include established writers, journalists, businesspeople, and lawyers such as Le Cong Dinh, who was sentenced to prison last month on subversion charges. A long-time journalist for the state media, Ms. Thuy is a member of the Association of Hanoi Writers, the Club of Women Poets, the Club of Humoristic Journalists, and the Association of Vietnamese Journalists. She is also an honorary member of English PEN.

Other recipients of the Hellman/Hammett award who have been sentenced to prison in recent months include Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a 2008 recipient, and Tran Anh Kim, a 2009 recipient.

“Vietnam’s intolerance for different opinions has recently reached a new low as the government tightens its grip in the run-up to next year’s party congress,” Adams said. “Unless Vietnam’s donors make it clear that these abuses are completely unacceptable, the downward trend will only get worse.”

[FACT comments: We are trying to get ahold of a copy of this blocklist. It should be very revealing of China’s repressive censorship.]

China government’s undesired websites unveiled

Taiwan News: February 12, 2010’s+undesired+websites+unveiled&id=26607

Google’s row with China over Internet freedom has aroused an universal concern for its controversial mechanism of information censorship. Many cannot help but wonder what is China’s rationale underlying Internet censorship? And what kind of websites are forbidden?

Recently, Phoenix Weekly stationed in Beijing published a “confidential blacklist,” revealing a series of unwelcome websites – KMT is surprisingly included in the list.

Websites calling for separatism are the main targets for China – including Tibetan Youth Congress, International Tibetan Separatist Movement, and Students for a Free Tibet. Taiwan’s opposition DPP as well as its related websites whose appeals always run counter to the China government are unsurprisingly included in the list.

Overseas Chinese websites are also under China’s control: BBC Chinese, the New York Times, Washington Post, Apple Daily, CNN, China Affairs, Open Magazine, New Magazine, Central News Agency, China Times, the Wall Street Journal and Boxun Network.

Religious websites in favor of Uighur freedom, human rights and Falun Dafa are also screened by China’s censorship mechanism.

In Xinjiang, the Internet is Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Johnathan Stray: February 8, 2010

We are witnessing the birth of a new kind of internet censorship in the Xinjiang province of Western China: the kind where a web site must be specifically allowed, instead of specifically disallowed.

China’s largest province was disconnected from the world completely, including a shutdown of phones and SMS, after hundreds of people were killed in separatist protests by the Uyghur minority people in July. Today, the Far West Blog reports that 27 more web sites have been allowed through the previously complete internet block. Wow. A whole 27. That brings the total number of extra-provincial sites accessible to Xinjiang residents to 31, and all of them are inside China.

The Chinese government maintains that the US-based “World Uyghur Congress” instigated the riots from overseas using the internet and SMS. No communications, no riots, the logic goes. And perhaps this is true, if myopic (fascinating debate on this here).

But there is something very wrong about opening up sites one by one like this, despite the fact that state-run Xinhua news agency is playing it up as communications being “restored”. The current Xinjian policy represents a new and extremely troubling flavor of censorship: rather than some sites being blocked, some sites are allowed. This is a white list, as opposed to the usual black list; the default is now “no”. Bearing in mind that personal satellite dishes are illegal in China, this means the government has complete control over the information that people are exposed to. This is just like the pre-internet era in any number of times and places, really, but that doesn’t make it any better.

At least text messaging, including international text messaging, was restored two weeks ago.

According to Far West Blog, here is what you now get from the outside world if you live in Xinjiang:

  • 7 News Sites (including China Daily and CCTV)
  • 4 Travel Sites (including Ctrip and Air China)
  • 3 Business & Finance Sites
  • 3 Telecom Sites (all three major Chinese carriers)
  • 2 Shopping Sites (including Taobao, China’s version of eBay)
  • 2 Computer Service Sites (so you can update your anti-virus)
  • 2 Gaming Sites (more flash games…yippee)
  • 2 Education Sites (study materials for students and help for teachers)
  • 1 Fashion Site

Yes, this also means no IM, no Skype, no email, no nothing outside of the province. “I have had to sit here and endure a frustrating feeling that we are now living in the stone ages,” says Far West Blog writer Josh.

These 31 sites seem ridiculously limited, and these limits (no email!) would severely hamper business in the affluent Eastern provinces. Xinjiang has only 20 million people, so perhaps China can more or less do without it for a while. But what if the national firewall let through only, say, the top 10,000 or 100,000 currently uncensored international sites? How much easier it would be to prevent some pesky overseas message board from cropping up to corrupt Chinese minds! Why, your world-censoring work would practically be done for you, and almost no one would be the wiser.

Let’s hope that this isn’t a precedent.

UPDATE: There are rumours, based on government statements in December, that a national whitelist is planned. Nothing definitive yet.

One month later, Google still censors China search

Premature Mountain View worship

Dan Goodin

The Register: February 10, 2010

From the department of premature congratulations: One of China’s best-known artists and activists just spoke out in support of Google’s “decision” to stop censoring search results inside the world’s most populous nation.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece headlined “Google Gives Us Hope,” Al Weiwei also said two of his Gmail accounts were breached by unknown intruders and messages were automatically “transferred to an unknown address.” He said that even as the internet was promoting greater political participation, Chinese authorities were working hard to stifle this possibility.

“All this makes Google’s decision to stop censoring to protect its China operations especially significant,” he wrote. “First, it is encouraging for the Chinese people to see that a leading internet company recognizes that censorship is a violation of basic human rights and values. Such controls damage the core ethos underpinning the internet.”

Perhaps no one told Weiwei that continues to heavily censor search results exactly a month to the day after it revealed its defenses were pierced by sophisticated attacks that probably came from China. A close reading of the underlying Google post makes it unclear when, or even if, the company will ever bring China’s 1.3 billion citizens the unfiltered information Weiwei says is crucial for liberty to flourish.

Google Chief Legal Officer David Drummond never said his company would stop censoring hot-button issues such as the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. Instead he said Google management had “decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all.”

The wiggle room in that promise is big enough to drive a truck through. A spokesman declined to say when the company planned to stop censoring results and instead referred us to Drummond’s post.

All of which has us wondering if all the hoopla about unfiltered search results was a smokescreen intended to distract world + dog from the very embarrassing admission that the world’s No. 1 search engine was breached and absent a complete withdrawal from China, it isn’t confident it can repel future attacks. A more cynical take might be that Google’s threat has less to do with basic human rights and values and more to do with a PR-savvy exit strategy.

To be fair, it’s possible Google’s reticence is the result of ongoing discussions in which company executives convince Chinese officials to allow the search behemoth to remain in China even though it will no longer comply with their censorship requirements. But until Google turns off the filters, let’s dispense with the congratulations.

China jails porn-monger

Crackdown continues

John Oates

The Register: February 9, 2010

China’s aggressive crackdown on internet smut and dissent continues – yesterday a man was sentenced to 13 years prison for renting a US server for distributing pornographic material

Huang Yizhong, from Jiangmen, was fined 100,000 yuan (£9,400) and sentenced to 13 years for copying and distributing pornographic material.

He used a rented US server to download 1,000 films which he edited into clips and made available to the 4,000 members of his website.

Chinese media said he earned almost 500,000 yuan (£46,900). He ran the site from 2005 until he was caught last July.

More from China Daily here.

Chinese authorities have arrested thousands of people since the crackdown was announced, and have even recruited volunteer smut-seekers to report dodgy content.

Hundreds of website have been forcibly closed and the government is restricting how individuals can register domain names.

Although widely interpreted as a way to restrict political dissent Chinese authorities have used the crackdown to restrict access to most forms of online content.

Censors busy in China

60 instances cited in 2009; Gag orders killed news of earthquake, unsafe water and a topless actress

Aileen McCabe

Montreal Gazette: February  2, 2010

The Beijing government issued more than 60 specific censorship orders to its domestic media in 2009, according to a damning new report on the lack of media freedom in China.

The report, prepared by the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists, show just how much censorship ordinary Chinese are confronted with on a daily basis in their newspapers, on TV and on the Internet.

For instance, gag orders made it difficult if not impossible for anyone not immediately involved to learn about the connection between for-maldehyde exposure and the high number of miscarriages in Dujiangyan, a city in Sichuan province, just as they ensured no one was listening to the 10,000 villagers in a Fujian province who rioted when industrial waste contaminated their drinking water.

In an apparent bid to contain social unrest, Chinese media were also ordered last year not to report on any issue involving the parents of children killed in the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake. They were warned to use only the official death count in their one-year anniversary stories about the quake and not to publish anything but official information on why so many buildings collapsed. Reporters were told that any problems with reconstruction they uncovered while working in Sichuan should be “reported to the authorities and must not be published.”

It wasn’t only worries over social unrest that spooked the Chinese government in 2009, however.

Photos of President Hu Jintao taken on China’s national day standing in front of a billboard advertising Japan’s Toshiba company were considered unpatriotic and ordered excised from all media. Photos of actress Zhang Ziyi lying topless on a Caribbean beach were doomed to the same fate, but obviously for a different reason. Neither exercise was particularly successful. Both pictures were cached all over the Internet before the bans were issued.

Rather than trying to make sure media follow every order it issues, in 2009, Beijing many times decreed that only the official Xinhua News Agency could write a story on sensitive issues that ranged from the influx of 30,000 Burmese refugees into Yunan province to the arrest of four employees of the Australian miner Rio Tinto.

According to the IFJ, Beijing also relied heavily on reporters to censor themselves in 2009. If they did not, they risked losing their government press accreditation and with it, their livelihood. The report said that “self-censorship remains a matter of self-preservation” in China.

The IFJ said mainstream Chinese media were “well aware” that last year’s 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the 50th anniversary of Tibet’s failed uprising against China were taboo subjects. “Most journalists and media outlets would self-censor and there would be no need for regulations or orders on these issues.”


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