The Committee to Protect Journalists has published its Risk List, which identifies the 10 countries worldwide where press freedom suffered the most in 2012. CPJ’s Risk List highlights 10 places where the space for free expression is shrinking and includes Vietnam.
In determining the list, CPJ staff examined six press freedom indicators: fatalities, imprisonments, restrictive legislation, state censorship, impunity in anti-press attacks, and journalists driven into exile. Countries named to the Risk List are not necessarily the world’s worst places for journalists; such a list would include nations like North Korea and Eritrea, where free expression has long been suffocated.
Instead, the Risk List identifies the 10 places where CPJ documented the most significant downward trends during 2012.
Though Vietnam has been applauded for economic strides, it has lagged in terms of openness and freedom of the press. Conditions worsened in 2012, as Vietnamese authorities ramped up efforts to stifle dissent by imprisoning journalists on anti-state charges.
With at least 14 journalists behind bars, Vietnam is Asia’s second-worst jailer of the press, according to CPJ’s annual worldwide census. Many of those detained have been charged or convicted of anti-state crimes related to their blog posts on politically sensitive topics. A 2012 CPJ special report found that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s administration has targeted online journalism by imprisoning bloggers and enacting restrictive legislation.
The Communist Party-dominated government controls all traditional news outlets in Vietnam; the authorities meet weekly with top newspaper editors to prescribe the news agenda and identify banned topics. “In Vietnam, there are a lot of issues that are not right–corruption, social issues, political problems–that journalists are not allowed to write about,” said Huynh Ngoc Chenh, a retired senior editor at Thanh Nien newspaper and a blogger.
Blogs and other online news outlets, once a relatively vibrant place for critical viewpoints, are the new targets of government censorship. Recent measures aimed at stifling online press freedom have included heightened surveillance of blogs, laws barring the posting of information viewed as a threat to national security or unity, and the deployment of security officials who pose online as ordinary Internet users and harshly criticize and harass bloggers, CPJ research found.
A draft executive decree, if passed, would force international technology companies to set up data centers and offices in Vietnam, which analysts say would erode the security of IP addresses and make critical writers even more vulnerable.
CPJ identified Egypt, Ecuador, Turkey, and Syria, among other countries, and included the supranational platform of cyberspace because of the profound erosion of freedom on the Internet. The organization identified Syria and Somalia, which are racked by conflict, along with Iran, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, nations that are ruled with an authoritarian grip. But half of the nations on the Risk List – Brazil, Turkey, Pakistan, and Russia, along with Ecuador — practice some form of democracy and exert significant influence on a regional or international stage.
To see highlights of where press freedom was under attack in 2012, check out CPJ’s video: