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Minnesota rally aims to show solidarity with protesters in Vietnam

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Minnesota Capitol rally
Dat Tran holds a sign during a rally at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday, July 7, 2018. The rally focused on the Vietnamese government's recent crackdown on citizens protesting a controversial proposal to create special economic zones to draw foreign investors, as well as a cybersecurity law some critics say may stifle free speech.
Kathryn Hockman | MPR News

A rally Saturday at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul targeted recent actions by the Vietnamese government, and aimed to show solidarity with protesters in Vietnam.

The rally focused on the Vietnamese government's recent crackdown on citizens protesting a controversial proposal to create special economic zones to draw foreign investors, as well as a cybersecurity law some critics say may stifle free speech.

Thomas Cao, president of the Vietnamese Community of Minnesota, said raising awareness about the issues is important because many members of Minnesota's Vietnamese community still have family members in Vietnam. 

"Even though we are living here, we always look to the homeland and we believe in freedom of expression is the right to (people) everywhere," he said.

Protesters fear the three proposed special economic zones where land could be rented for up to 99 years would be dominated by investors from China; there are concerns the zones would give China unregulated influence and encourage environmental degradation. 

Vietnamese police arrested more than a dozen people during protests last month, including an American citizen of Vietnamese descent. Family and friends said in a statement that Will Nguyen "was beaten over the head and dragged into the back of a police truck" after police moved to break up a protest in Ho Chi Minh City.

Minnesota Capitol rally
A rally at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday, July 7, 2018, focused on the Vietnamese government's recent crackdown on citizens protesting a controversial proposal to create special economic zones to draw foreign investors, as well as a cybersecurity law some critics say may stifle free speech.
Kathryn Hockman | MPR News

Lawmakers in the National Assembly later postponed the passage of the law until the next session in October.

Saturday's rally in St. Paul also addressed protests in Vietnam over a contentious cybersecurity law passed by the National Assembly last month, which critics say will hurt the economy and further restrict freedom of expression.

The law requires service providers such as Google and Facebook to store user data in Vietnam, open offices in the country and remove offending contents within 24 hours at the request of the Ministry of Information and Communications and the specialized cybersecurity task-force under the Ministry of Public Security.

Addressing the Communist Party-dominated assembly before the vote last month, chairman of the Committee on Defense and Security Vo Trong Viet said the law is "extremely necessary to defend the interests of the people and national security".

Viet said requiring foreign companies to set up data centers in Vietnam may increase their operational costs, but it was necessary for the country's cybersecurity and will facilitate the companies' operations and user activities.

"When there are acts of violation of cybersecurity, the coordination in handling the violations will be more effective and more viable," Viet said, without elaborating.

An estimated 70 percent of Vietnam's 93 million people are online and some 53 million people have Facebook accounts.

Jeff Paine, managing director of Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association that includes Google and Facebook, said that the group was disappointed with the passage of the law whose requirements on data localization, content control and local offices will hinder the country's ambitions to achieve GDP and job growth.

Amnesty International said the decision has potentially devastating consequences for freedom of expression.

"In the country's deeply repressive climate, the online space was a relative refuge where people could go to share ideas and opinions with less fear of censure by the authorities," Clare Algar, Amnesty International's director of global operations, said in a statement after the bill's passage.

She said the law grants the government sweeping powers to monitor online activity, which means "there is now no safe place left in Vietnam for people to speak freely."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.