Government tightens campus controls

Students are being warned not to criticise the government. Picture courtesy Tuoi Tre

Students are being warned not to criticise the government. Picture courtesy Tuoi Tre

The government is introducing new rules that appear designed to stifle political activism on university campuses.

Under the directive, circulated by the education ministry, students will be forbidden from posting comments on the internet that are critical of the government.

The new regulations will take effect on May 23, after which violators will face warnings, expulsion or criminal prosecution.

Students will be forbidden from “commenting on or sharing posts and photos on the Internet whose content is obscene, violent, violates national security, opposes the Party and state, and distorts and insults certain organizations or individuals.”

The political restrictions are contained in a long list of potential offences that also include gambling, smoking, drinking and sexual harassment.

Some activists are complaining that the restrictions on internet use violate the right to free speech that is, in theory at least, guaranteed under the constitution.

Scope to intimidate

Small numbers of students have taken part in recent civil society campaigns against government policy – including a campaign last year to prevent the cutting down of old trees that line some of Hanoi’s most picturesque boulevards.

Pro-democracy activists, however, say that the universities remain under the tight control and surveillance of the Communist party and its proxies.

Pro-government student organisations keep a close watch on any activities that are not officially sanctioned.

Students who do become politically active say they have received warnings from professors and administrators about their actions.

The tightening of controls on internet use will give the authorities additional scope to intimidate and persecute students that seek to challenge government authority.

Students have been central to many democracy movements in Asia – including in South Korea, Taiwan and China.

The Vietnamese government appears determined to keep the Vietnamese student population as quiescent as possible, at a time when social media has overturned its monopoly on information, and is exposing the Communist party to scrutiny and criticism that would once have been unthinkable.