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Vietnam to fine citizens $5,000 for criticizing state on social media

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Communist regime intensifies crackdown on internet freedom

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Internet users in Vietnam will now face fines for criticizing the government online, as part of a new law announced this week. As Reuters reports, the law was signed this week by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, and explicitly targets users who post comments on social media. Under the measure, people who use social networks to spread "propaganda against the state" or "reactionary ideology" will face fines of 100 million dong (about $4,740). That's a steep sum for many in Vietnam, where the average monthly income is $185, according to recent statistics from the labor ministry.

The new law is the latest in a series of measures against online dissidents in Vietnam, which ranks near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders' 2013 Press Freedom Index. The country's communist regime has convicted and imprisoned dozens of bloggers this year, and has only intensified its efforts in recent months. In September, the country passed a vaguely-worded law that prohibits users from posting news articles on blogs or social media, declaring that sites like Facebook and Twitter should only be used "to provide and exchange personal information."

"we call on the Vietnamese government to respect the right to freedom of expression."

The decree passed this week is similarly vague, and does not specify what kinds of comments would be considered as a criminal offense. The country's repressive internet policies have come under harsh criticism from civil rights activists and the US government, which raised serious concerns over the law passed in September, known as Decree 72.

"We are deeply concerned by the decree's provisions that appear to limit the types of information individuals can share via personal social media accounts and on websites," the US embassy Hanoi said in a statement issued in August. "In addition, this decree will limit the development of Vietnam’s budding IT sector by hampering domestic innovation and deterring foreign investment."

"We have repeatedly raised our concerns about this decree with senior Vietnamese government officials, and we call on the Vietnamese government to respect the right to freedom of expression."