On the World Day Against Cyber Censorship on March 12, 2020, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a list of the 20 biggest enemies on the Internet, including the Task Force 47 cyber unit (Force 47) of the Vietnam People’s Army (VPA).
According to RSF, the Force 47 consists of 10,000 soldiers fighting against the voices of democracy and those who are considered government critics.
Force 47 has used digital technologies to threaten, monitor or censor journalists and thus seriously reduce the freedom of information on the Internet.
Answering to RFA on March 13, Dr. Nguyen Quang A, former chairman of Vietnam Informatics Association said:
“This is a really unequal struggle, because those who fight for democracy and freedom don’t have the resources that the Force 47 has. Force 47 has tens of thousands of soldiers. They are not only financially supported by the state but also technically, they can say that they have more material resources than the activists.”
Journalist Le Trung Khoa in Germany said:
“The fact that the Force 47 seeks to destroy and restrict the freedom of speech and press freedom of Vietnamese people at home and abroad is the most important thing that RSF has paid great attention… Therefore, in the RSF report released in 2020, Force 47 was listed in a group of 20 organizations biggest enemies of the Internet.”
According to him, this is very accurate, and also the information for organizations and countries to assess the badness of Internet freedom at Vietnam.
However, Dr. Nguyen Quang A thinks that truth is the invincible power, so if the fighters know and do not waste their resources in raising the truth and try to avoid spreading untrue information, the activist will win. He further explained:
“Because when you give false news, untrue news, untested news, you will lose your credibility, and your power will decrease by a thousand times. So you are no different from the public opinion shapers, because the public opinion shapers are in large number but not much impact, because they do not tell the truth. Actually, although they have a lot of material strength, a lot of money, I think, if the activists know their ways and most importantly specialize in giving the truth, not distorting information, not giving fake news, then that small number of people will fight and will surely win.”
Freedom House on November 5, 2019, also listed Vietnam in a list of countries without Internet freedom.
With the title “Social Crisis” Freedom House said its project of surveying Internet freedom in 65 countries shows that Vietnam is in the group of countries with scores from 0 to 39, which is not free Internet. In the eyes of Freedom House, Vietnam is a one-party country, dominated by a ruling Vietnamese communist party for decades, not to mention the Cyber Security Law which aims to restrict Internet freedom.
Journalist Ngo Nhat Dang said:
“I see the real situation like this, when the Cyber t Security law comes into effect, the Internet censorship should have been more and more difficult, but I find it seems easier, the things such as blockage, removal, and reported or Facebook accounts being hacked have been reduced. In my personal opinion, firstly, the state no longer has enough potential to prevent social networks in terms of technology, human resources, financial resources, etc. Secondly, more people from tens of million of Internet users are increasingly speaking up so it is impossible [for the regime] to suffocate as before.”
According to Freedom House, Vietnam has previously said that the Law on Cyber Security does not restrict users’ freedom of online speech, but only to “protect the legitimate rights and interests” of individuals and organizations using cyberspace. However, authorities have increased the number of arrests and jails in recent years targeting people who express dissent on Facebook, the most popular social network in Vietnam.
According to RSF, when the Vietnamese media is obeying the orders of the Communist Party, independent information come from citizen bloggers and journalists who are suffering from harsh forms of terrorism, including violence from plainclothes police.
To justify imprisonment and punishment for long prison sentences, the Party increasingly uses Articles 79, 88 and 258 of the Criminal Code 1999 [or respective Articles 109, 117 and 331 of the Penal Code 2015], under which the activities of democratic voices are considered to overthrow the government, propaganda against the state and abuse of freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state.
RSF said that under the leadership of the party led by Nguyen Phu Trong, the level of terrorism against activists has increased sharply in the past two years, with many citizen journalists being jailed or deported in relation to their writing, and activist Le Dinh Luong in Nghe An was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Journalist Le Trung Khoa said:
“Regarding Internet freedom, as you all know, Vietnam is a country led by the Communist Party, and monopoly leads to dictatorship. In Vietnam, there are nearly 4 million party members who are arranged by the party to do other jobs that 90 million people have no value to the party. Therefore, in the era of expanded Internet information, Force 47 is quite the core force of the party, looking for ways to combat all the truth information that is flooding into Vietnam. But these people have low education level, so it has caused a lot of trouble too.”
Journalist Le Trung Khoa said that RSF made statistics that Force 47 has reported many activists’ accounts, or made very vulgar comments to threaten activists from further writing. However, he said that in Vietnam, there are tens of millions of accounts and more people dare to speak out the truth. Therefore, Force 47’s harmful affections are decreasing.