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ICC Note: Vietnamese Catholics and other religious groups often use internet to expose government’s rights abuse and encourage activism. However, the new “cyber-security” laws passed on June 12 by the government will further suppress and threaten the right to privacy of religious groups operating outside government-controlled institutions.

07/30/2018 Vietnam (UCA News) – A group of 17 U.S. lawmakers on July 18 wrote to the Vietnamese government protesting its tough new “cyber-security” laws, that force internet companies such as Facebook and Google to store their users’ data in the country and open offices there.

The new laws were passed June 12 and require internet companies to “verify” user information, and disclose user data to authorities without the need for a court order, further threatening the right to privacy and could facilitate further suppression of online dissent or activism.

The move by U.S. lawmakers is the latest freedom advocates who have multiple concerns with the new laws, similar to recent laws passed in China.

International internet companies have described them as regressive and curbing free speech even further.

They come 18 months after new laws curbing religion came into force on Jan. 1, 2017 and further reduce the space for Vietnamese who follow religions to communicate openly, particularly Catholicism which has maintained a firm foothold in the country with just over six million followers representing 7 percent of the total population, according to Catholic Hierarchy. Vietnam has 26 dioceses (including three archdioceses) with 2,228 parishes and 2,668 priests, despite increasing repression by authorities in recent decades.

Amnesty International has said the laws have potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression in the Southeast Asian nation.

“In the country’s deeply repressive climate, the online space was a relative refuge where people could go to share ideas and opinions with less fear of censure by the authorities,” Amnesty International said. “With the sweeping powers it grants the government to monitor online activity, this vote means there is now no safe place left in Vietnam for people to speak freely.”

Like China, the Vietnamese authorities operate a national firewall — known as the Bamboo Firewall — that blocks countless sites including those with politically or religiously sensitive materials. But, at least for now, the country allows U.S. tech companies blocked in China, such as Facebook and Google, to operate.

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For interviews with Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]