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Media Experts Fear Online Restrictions in Vietnam, Cambodia

Cambodian men using the Internet at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh.

Cambodian men using the Internet at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh.

Media experts warn that Vietnam continues to restrict social media, and Cambodia could be following suit.

At a forum in Washington to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, panelists said online and traditional media activities have been restricted by Vietnamese authorities.

The forum, called “Towards a Free Media in Vietnam,” was organized by Radio Free Asia and Reporters Without Borders.

People can use social media, such as Facebook, in Vietnam, but some have been arrested for things they’ve posted, experts say.

“It’s a situation of grave concern to us,” said Scott Busby, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights and Labor. “Even while we recognize that people are be able to get access to the Internet, a lot of times they are unable to use their Facebook account. So it’s a complicated situation. It’s not North Korea, but it’s not the sort of free society that it should be when it comes to use of the Internet.”

Busby said he will meet with Vietnamese officials later this month where he will raise the issue.

Do Hoang Diem, chairman of the Viet Tan advocacy group, based in California, said human rights is gaining momentum in Vietnam, which has led to a crackdown on freedoms.

“We need to have help from the international community…to move forward to bring back human rights and democracy in Vietnam,” he said.

And the problem is not restricted to Vietnam. Cambodia, too, is seeing more political activity online—and more crackdowns, said Jon Fox, of the advocacy group Access.

“Internet censorship exists all over the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, and we see increasingly in countries like Cambodia, where more and more activities are taking place online, more and more repression is also happening,” he said.

Cambodian land and labor disputes are increasingly discussed online, and that is prompting a reaction, he said.

“We have seen blog spots being shut down, we have seen the Internet blacked out,” he said. “We’ve seen that in Cambodia. This is a problem, and this is a negative impact on human rights and the ability of people to express themselves to realize their basic human rights.”