Following international news coverage of its violent reactions to Catholic protests, the Vietnamese government is again censoring Catholic web sites.
The VietCatholic News site has long been blocked by the government. Now the censorship has extended to sites like Catholic News Agency, Catholic Online, Asia News, Catholic World News and Independent Catholic News, Sr. Emily Nguyen, who lives in Vietnam, tells CNA.
Previously, the government had blocked CNA for several months beginning in September 2008. The government has also monitored CNA’s reports on the protests in which Catholics are seeking the return of confiscated church properties.
Vietnam strictly regulates internet access, using both legal and technological means. The government claims its efforts protect the country from obscene or sexually explicitly content. However, according to Sr. Emily, “in reality most of the filtered sites contain politically or religiously sensitive materials that have been observed as undermining the Communist Party's hold on power while porn sites can be accessed unrestrictedly.”
Reporters without Borders considers Vietnam to be one of 15 “internet enemies,” while Amnesty International has reported many instances of internet activists being arrested for their online activities.
The collaborative academic project OpenNet Initiative, which investigates internet filtering practices, has classified Vietnam’s online political censorship as “pervasive.” Its research has found that Vietnam’s blocking efforts focus on overseas and independent media, sites with content about overseas political opposition, human rights topics and religious topics.
Proxies and other tools to circumvent the filtering, which are illegal to use in Vietnam, are also frequently blocked.
The majority of blocked web sites were initially specific to Vietnam and were written in Vietnamese or dealt with issues related to the country. Sites not specifically related to Vietnam or sites only written in English were rarely blocked.
Recently, however, popular Catholic English-language sites have been blacklisted, joining groups such as Human Rights Watch, Writers Without Borders, Amnesty International and other human rights groups.
On July 21, Asia News broke the story about persecutions of Catholics throughout the country, centering on the parishioners of Tam Toa church in the province of Quang Binh. Catholics tried to erect a makeshift tent for worship services on the property of a church mostly destroyed in a Vietnam War U.S. air raid. The property had since been confiscated by the government for use as a war memorial.
Police attacked the parishioners, leaving hundreds injured and dozens arrested. About 500,000 Catholics across the country began their own protests in response. Many lay faithful and clergy were harassed and beaten in retaliation.
One priest visiting his injured fellow clergyman was thrown from a second story hospital window by a government-backed gang. His severe injuries left him comatose.
The Vietnamese government is the exclusive owner of a network of more than 600 media outlets, which work under the strict supervision of the ruling communist party.
“Since Vietnam has not been used to adverse news coming from a foreign, popular source they are apparently not happy with reports on an ongoing situation of abuse and persecution of Catholics,” Sr. Emily Nguyen remarked. “Action they took to make sure the Vietnamese public is shielded from the news is extreme, though not unexpected, for those who have to live under dictatorial, communist regimes such as China or Vietnam.”