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Vietnam Intensifies Online Crackdown

Vietnamese Internet activist Nguyen Lan Thang looks at a Facebook page at a cafe in Hanoi, Nov. 27, 2013.
Vietnam has stepped up its crackdown on online dissent with a new law that includes large fines for anyone criticizing the government on social media such as Facebook.

The decree, which was signed into law this week, includes fines of more than $4,700 that can be imposed on those who write "propaganda against the state". However, the the vaguely worded measure does not clearly define what instances would qualify for punishment.

Online activist Nguyen Lan Thang says while the new decree has raised concerns among Vietnam's Internet users, it would have no impact on the online dissident community.

Thang said, “Those who have spoken out against the government know that they might be arrested or imprisoned for doing so. That’s why heavy fines could not stop them from raising their voice."

The new decree is the latest in a series of measures designed to tighten controls on online speech. A controversial decree that went into effect in September made the online sharing of news stories a criminal offense.

Last month, an older law was used to give an online activist a 15-month suspended sentence for using Facebook to criticize the prison sentence given to his brother.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch reports more than 60 dissidents and political activists have been convicted and sentenced to prison in 2013, compared to about 40 such convictions a year earlier.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.