Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/Rfa) - China and Vietnam are among the world's worst abusers of Internet freedom, a new report said Thursday, as the two communist nations introduced tough new policies aimed at curbing freedom of expression within the online community. U.S.-based Freedom House's 2014 Freedom on the Net report, which scores 65 countries from zero (best) to 100 (worst), said that the two countries were the worst jailers of netizens and heavily targeted social media to crush dissent during the year-long reporting period ending in May.
China, which was given the status "not free," dropped to a score of 87 in 2014 from 86 a year earlier, emerging third worst among abusers of Internet freedom after Iran and Syria, the report said. The report said Chinese police detained hundreds of Weibo microblog users, and indicted some of the most prominent, after top legal authorities established 5,000 views or 500 reposts as a new threshold for prosecuting false, defamatory, or "harmful" comments online.
Freedom House cited media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which documented a total of 74 netizens in Chinese jails as of August 2014-the most of any nation. Among those in jail is Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, serving an 11-year sentence on charges of "inciting subversion of state power" for publishing online articles, including the prodemocracy manifesto Charter 08.
Vietnam, which was also designated "not free," dropped to 76 in 2014 from 75 a year earlier, ranking it seventh worst abuser of Internet freedom after Uzbekistan, the report said. Freedom House said Internet freedom "showed no improvement during the coverage period of this report," even as Vietnam joined the United Nations' Human Rights Council in December 2013.
It said authorities had doubled the number of netizens behind bars within the last three years and by 2014 had imprisoned more bloggers than any country in the world except China.The report cited the case of lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan (pictured), who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for tax evasion, a charge that is frequently used by authorities to silence dissidents.
Freedom House also examined Internet freedom in Myanmar and Cambodia-two Southeast Asian nations that were designated "partly free" in this year's report. Myanmar, which emerged from decades of military rule in 2011 and launched democratic reforms under President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian administration, made moderate gains in 2014, improving to a score of 60 from 62 a year ago. But Freedom House said that the "practices of the old regime ... endure," citing legal, administrative, and other sanctions to influence content. Cambodia maintained its score of 47 from a year earlier, and Freedom House applauded the widespread use of digital tools to exchange views, debate, and organize during the country's July 2013 National Assembly (parliament) elections. But the report noted that draft provisions of an anti-cybercrime law which leaked in April 2014 penalized "poorly-defined" categories of online expression, adding that even without such a law, internet freedom had begun to erode in Cambodia.