Facebook Bowed to ‘Vietnam’s Extortion’ by Censoring Content, Human Rights Watch Says

Foreign ministry says Facebook should adhere to local laws if it wants to do business in Vietnam.

Facebook Bowed to ‘Vietnam’s Extortion’ by Censoring Content, Human Rights Watch Says

The Vietnamese government said Thursday that Facebook should operate according to local laws, just a day after the social media giant was called out by human rights organizations for caving to Hanoi’s demands to remove unfavorable content.

Reuters news agency reported Tuesday that Facebook’s local servers in Vietnam were taken offline earlier in the year until the company gave in to the demands of the government to remove posts, a period of about seven weeks when the website was often not usable by Facebook’s 65 million users in Vietnam.

The company had bowed to the “government of Vietnam’s extortion,” argued New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement Thursday, joining a chorus of rights groups critical of Facebook’s decision.

“Now other countries know how to get what they want from the company, to make them complicit in violating the right to free speech,” said John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocacy director.

“The government of Vietnam shouldn’t have throttled the platform’s traffic in the first place, but Facebook shouldn’t have agreed to its demands,” he added.

“It’s hard to see how Facebook can live up to its human rights obligations when it’s helping Vietnam censor free speech,” Sifton said.

HRW’s statement echoed several points brought up by Amnesty International and other rights organizations Wednesday, including the charge that Facebook was helping Vietnam trample on freedom of expression.

The statement also said that Facebook should publicly explain how it came to the decision to comply with the government requests, and that the United States and other countries should have put diplomatic pressure on Vietnam to help Facebook stand up to the pressure from Hanoi.

But the Vietnamese government said Facebook had a responsibility to abide by local laws if it wants to do business in Vietnam.

“These companies must fully implement their tax and social responsibilities,” foreign ministry spokesman Ngo Toan Thang was quoted by Reuters as saying in a news conference Thursday, after he was asked about the report that broke Tuesday.

The spokesman said that the company had agreed to obey Vietnam’s laws and regulations, and the country would continue monitoring to ensure Facebook upholds its commitment.

“Information and communication firms should cooperate with the government of Vietnam to build a healthy and safe cyber environment,” he said.

Facebook maintains that it respects human rights.

In an email exchange with RFA’s Vietnamese Service Wednesday, a company spokesperson said Facebook would do everything in its power to “rigorously protect and defend the fundamental rights of all internet users - such as the right to freedom of expression.”

“Although we do not agree with these laws, if we continued to push back on lawful government requests to block access to content in Vietnam, it is highly likely our platforms would be blocked in their entirety,” the spokesperson said.

“The net result of this is even greater restrictions on speech and expression - all voices in Vietnam would be silenced,” she said.

The spokesperson wrote to RFA on Thursday, saying Facebook “will not be complying with every request flagged to us by the government.”

Since January the Vietnamese government has been actively cracking down on dissent expressed on social media. At that time, much online discussion revolved around the Dong Tam land dispute protests, which turned violent and resulted in the deaths of an activist and three police officers.

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic 654 people were ordered to appear at police stations across the country for questioning pertaining to Facebook posts about the coronavirus. All of those summoned were forced to delete content they had posted online, and 146 were fined, According to Amnesty International.

Vietnam, whose ruling Communist Party controls all media and tolerates no dissent, ranks 175th of 180 countries on the 2020 Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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US Urges Southeast Asian Nations to Close Wildlife Wet Markets

Illegal wildlife sold in wet markets linked to infectious “zoonotic diseases,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says.

US Urges Southeast Asian Nations to Close Wildlife Wet Markets

The United States appealed to Southeast Asian countries Thursday to shut down all wet markets illegally selling wildlife, saying such trading places had been linked to animal disease communicable to humans, as Washington announced it had released $35.3 million in regional aid to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the appeal after calling on China to permanently close its wildlife wet markets, including those in its central city of Wuhan, where health experts say COVID-19 might have originated last year before the virus infected more than 2.6 million people worldwide and killed more than 186,000 others.

“Given the strong link between illegal wildlife sold in wet markets and zoonotic diseases, the United States has called on the People’s Republic of China to permanently close its wildlife wet markets and all markets that sell illegal wildlife,” Pompeo said in a statement, referring to a major complex of stalls that sell live fish and where wild animals are often butchered right on the premises.

“I call on all ASEAN governments to do the same,” he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang rejected Pompeo’s allegations, telling reporters in Beijing that “there's no ‘wildlife wet market’ in China.”

“Instead, we have farmers' markets and seafood markets where meat, fish, vegetables, seafood and other fresh produce are sold. A very small number of them sell live poultry,” he said. “Such markets are commonplace existence not only in China, but also in many Southeast Asian countries and a lot of developing countries.”

US aid to ASEAN

Pompeo came out with the statement hours before taking part in an online meeting on Thursday (Jakarta time) with foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Pompeo said Washington had released more than $35.3 million in emergency health funding to help the regional bloc combat the virus. That amount was on top of the $3.5 billion in public health assistance that the United States had provided countries in the region during the past 20 years, he said.

Southeast Asia has recorded some of the highest number of COVID-19 infections, with the prosperous city-state Singapore reporting 1,037 in new cases on Thursday, taking its cumulative cases to 11,178.

At the online meeting with his ASEAN counterparts on Thursday, Pompeo said the United States had released $3 million for Indonesia, which has so far confirmed 7,775 cases with 647 fatalities.

During the video-conference, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi urged countries to put aside political differences to forge international cooperation to fight the coronavirus.

“It is important that countries work together to overcome the shortcomings that are still faced by many, especially in terms of medical and protective equipment and medicines,” Retno said.

Pompeo also told his Southeast Asian counterparts that Beijing was taking advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the coronavirus pandemic to reinforce its aggressive claims in the South China Sea.

“Even as we fight the outbreak, we must remember that the long-term threats to our shared security have not disappeared,” he said. “In fact, they’ve become more prominent.”

The video-conference participants mostly “reaffirmed their collective resolve to prioritize strengthening their public health systems” and “cooperating in research and development of vaccine and therapeutics,” according to Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

But Locsin said in a statement that his counterparts also expressed concerns “over recent developments in the South China Sea that increased tensions at a time when all efforts and resources are focused on battling the pandemic.”

“They recognized the importance of contributing to the maintenance of peace, security, stability, and the rule of law in the region amid the fight against COVID-19,” he said. “This is essential at a time when countries must not only navigate the COVID crisis, but must also prepare a post-pandemic plan of social and economic recovery.”

The Philippines has recorded 6,981 COVID-19 infections with 462 deaths as of Thursday.

US thanks Malaysia for sending gloves

During the meeting, Pompeo thanked Malaysia, as well as Cambodia and Vietnam, for their support in the pandemic fight and for helping in the continued flow of vital medical supplies into the United States.

Malaysia facilitated the speedy delivery of over 1.3 million kilograms of gloves for U.S. health care workers, he said.

Kuala Lumpur extended its COVID-19 travel curbs on Thursday by two weeks, although Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said more business sectors may be allowed to resume operations.

Malaysia, which has so far reported a cumulative tally of 5,603 coronavirus cases with 95 deaths, started a partial lockdown on March 18. The extension of its so-called movement control order would last until May 12, Muhyiddin said.

“Should the number of COVID-19 cases show significant reduction, the government may ease curbs on movement in stages in several sectors including the social sector,” Muhyiddin said in a televised address.

Bangladesh, which has reported 4,186 coronavirus infections as of Thursday, with a death toll of 127, has also announced a similar extension of movement curbs until May 5.

Pompeo announces US-ASEAN health initiative

Pompeo also announced during the video conference the formation of the U.S.-ASEAN Health Futures initiative, which would be used as a platform to enhance efforts in health security through research.

He said the United States was making an additional pledge of about $270 million to assist the most at-risk countries in fighting the coronavirus. He did not elaborate.

Washington was currently involved in training more than 70,000 pharmacists across Indonesia “so they can provide good advice and referrals” for coronavirus patients, he added.

A day earlier, during a news conference, Pompeo also criticized China for not sharing “all of the information it had” about the coronavirus.

“Instead, it covered up how dangerous the disease is. It didn’t report sustained human-to-human transmission for a month until it was in every province inside of China,” he said, emphasizing that Beijing’s refusal to share samples of the virus from inside of the country with the outside world made it “impossible to track the disease’s evolution.”

Geng Shuang, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, described Pompeo’s statements as “lies that discredit China's anti-epidemic efforts.”

“Facts speak louder than words,” he said. “China has taken timely, swift and efficient epidemic prevention and control measures in an open, transparent and responsible manner.”

Globally, almost 2.7 million infections from the coronavirus have been recorded while the death toll stood at more than 188,400 as of Thursday, according to data compiled by disease experts at U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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