Why Vietnam’s new law to limit free speech reminds me of my worst fears

VietnamThe Vietnam parliament has passed a law requiring companies such as Facebook to retain all user data in the country. In doing so, they have found a way to limit free speech and legally suppress people’s voices. The new cybersecurity law was faced with protests across the country.

With this new regulation, companies in Vietnam will be legally required to hand over large amounts of private data on users in the country. This means that, if you have any political opinion that does not align with the Vietnamese government, then forget about using the internet as your window to political expression.

This isn’t just a simple law that holds privacy concerns for citizens, this law is actually alarming, dangerous, and brings back memories of my dear friends who lost their lives because of government surveillance online.

This is not something that should be taken lightly.

I’ve seen this first hand with users in the Middle East, as well as in my home country of Syria, where activists who did not protect their online identity and IP addresses were caught and detained by regime officials for voicing their opinions.

My good friend and fellow activist, Moaz, used to organize protests in Damascus, the capital of Syria. Moaz spoke three languages, was studying engineering at the University of Damascus, and was looking to propose to his girlfriend at the end of that semester.

Three days after my last conversation with him about installing a VPN on his computer to keep his online identity private and to protect his Facebook account, his dorm was raided by Syrian intelligence. He was detained for three months, under constant torture for organizing protests against the regime, and after many online campaigns, his body was sent back to his parents for a “strictly private” family burial. The police forced his parents to sign a non-disclosure, stating that their son died from health complications not related to his detainment.

Moaz’s last Facebook message to me was this: “I can’t wait until I graduate and propose to my girlfriend.” He was a son, a student, a brother, and an activist who was simply yearning for freedom and democracy in Syria.

What happened to Moaz, and many others in Syria, brings me to my worst fears. The new cyber law that was passed in Vietnam is designed to limit free speech and provide the government with the means to take action against people who speak out against them. There have already been a string of arrests over the past year in Vietnam, seeing bloggers jailed for discussing things like environmental issues and politics. And just today, American Will Nguyen was detained for joining in a demonstration against new economic zones across the country.

What this new law does is allow the government even further ability to act.

So I urge all my fellow students, activists, and citizens to protect themselves. Be smart online, take extra precautions, because you’d be amazed how far government forces can go. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes.

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