Facebook, YouTube blamed as Vietnam sees rise in jailed activists

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Amnesty International has taken aim at Facebook, YouTube and Google as the number of activists imprisoned for expressing their opinion online in Vietnam reaches a record high, a report said on Tuesday.

In its first full investigation into Vietnam since May 2018, Amnesty uncovered 170  prisoners of conscience in the South East Asian nation, with 40 per cent of them behind bars as a result of their social media use.

“In the last decade, the right to freedom of expression flourished on Facebook and YouTube in Vietnam,’’ Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns, said in a statement.

“Today, these platforms have become hunting grounds for censors, military cyber-troops and state-sponsored trolls.

“The platforms themselves are not merely letting it happen, they’re increasingly complicit,’’ she said.

In March, Facebook agreed to censor, or geo-block, content deemed anti-state in Vietnam after facing intense pressure from the government. The company stresses that this only affects posts that violate local laws.

Yet in early November, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed in an email to dpa that the Vietnamese government was still threatening to block local access to the site if it did not increase the number of censored posts.

Analysts say the jailing of journalists and activists are a regular occurrence ahead of Vietnam’s National Congress, where a five-year economic plan and leadership changes are decided by the Communist party.

Carl Thayer, a South East Asia expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, said arrests would likely spike as the congress draws near. 

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