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Backward progress in Vietnam press freedom

Activists jailed while BBC and CNN broadcasts are dropped

Backward progress in Vietnam press freedom

Motorbikes pause in front of a propaganda poster in Hanoi (AFP / Hoang Dinh Nam) reporter, Bangkok

May 17, 2013

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Concerns have emerged that a major backslide in freedom of the press in Vietnam is underway after the jailing this week of two activists accused of distributing leaflets critical of the state.

The two detainees, Nguyen Phuong Uyen, 21, and Dinh Nguyen Kha, 25, were given six and eight years respectively on charges of anti-state propaganda. The court said the leaflets handed out by them "humiliated the administration" and threatened its standing.

Their sentencing follows a decision by satellite television provider Pay TV K+ to drop broadcasts of the BBC and CNN, following a law introduced this month that requires foreign language stations to provide Vietnamese translations of their broadcasts prior to airing.

Critics say the move could amount to heightened censorship, with the new law requiring a state-appointed committee to vet all material to ensure it is “appropriate to the people's healthy needs.”

The fear now is that other local television providers may follow suit if pressure from the government grows, leaving the country with no foreign broadcasts. Already, a half hour delay on foreign broadcasts into the country is in place to allow scrutiny of material prior to it going out.

Vietnam consistently ranks at the tail end of press freedom indexes, with Reporters Without Borders this year awarding it 172 out of 179 countries in its annual roundup. All private media is banned, and newspapers and television channels are state-run.

Already this year, 38 people have been jailed on anti-government charges. Uyen, a university student, warned during the trial that a guilty verdict would mean “all young people will be frightened."

Human Rights Watch called the sentencing “ridiculous”, and accused Vietnam of “using politically controlled courts to convict critics."

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