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Friday, 8 November, 2002, 14:14 GMT
Vietnam jails internet dissident
A Vietnamese woman surfs the Communist Party of Vietnam web site
Vietnam has cracked down on internet use
A Vietnamese dissident has been jailed for four years for publishing criticism of the Communist government on the internet.

Le Chi Quang, a 32-year-old lawyer, was convicted of "acts of propaganda" against the state during the one-day trial in Hanoi, a court official said.

Foreign journalists were not allowed to attend the trial.

The conviction came as Vietnam's internet service providers (ISPs) confirmed that the authorities have blocked access to the BBC's Vietnamese language website.

Le Chi Quang was arrested and detained in February after being accused of posting several essays on the internet which condemned the government for its land and sea border agreements with China.

Other essays praised fellow well-known dissidents Nguyen Thanh Giang and Vu Cao Quan.

Despite Vietnam's constitutional guarantees of a free press, in reality dissidents take considerable risks if they speak out.

Warning to others

The verdict in Quang's case has implications for other dissidents awaiting trial.

A prominent Vietnamese writer, Nguyen Vu Binh, was arrested in September, also for writing critical essays on the border agreements which were then distributed over the internet.

Last month the government tightened access to the internet with regulations which require websites to be licensed.

The BBC's Vietnamese language site has been blocked for a week. Internet users see only a bogus password prompt or a message to contact their ISP.

The BBC's Hanoi correspondent Clare Arthurs says sources at two ISPs have confirmed the erection of a firewall - a computer security measure which prevents internet users from reaching the particular BBC web address.

Government authorities have declined to comment on the firewall.

The BBC Vietnamese website carries a range of news and information including interviews with dissidents. It has been gaining in popularity among Vietnam's 1.3m internet users, with the number of hits running at about 180,000 a week.

On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh told the BBC that Vietnam was fully aware of the importance of the internet. She says Vietnam uses firewalls against pornographic sites or those which incite people or encourage violence.

See also:

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