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Vietnam rebuffs criticism of 'misunderstood' web decree

HANOI (Reuters) - Vietnam rejected criticism by the United States and leading internet firms like Google and Yahoo! on Tuesday over a controversial internet decree it said had been misunderstood and did not breach human rights.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and a coalition of major internet groups derided Vietnam's Decree 72, which takes effect on September 1, saying it curbed freedom of speech and restricted information people can share on social media.

The law demands all foreign websites have at least one server in Vietnam, which would give greater control of content to a government that media freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders has described as an "enemy of the internet".

The Asia Internet Coalition, formed by eBay, Facebook, Google and Yahoo!, said the decree would "negatively affect Vietnam's Internet ecosystem" and deter foreign investors.

Vietnam has repeatedly come under fire for its harsh treatment and long jail terms for bloggers who dare to criticize the one-party communist regime. It comes as internet penetration soars in a country where a third of the estimated 90 million population have web access.

The U.S. Embassy said it was "deeply concerned" and the decree's provisions "appear to limit the types of information individuals can share via personal social media accounts and on websites".

Its statement was referring to a vaguely worded article of the decree that Vietnam's Ministry of Information and Communications said had been misinterpreted as a ban on sharing links to news articles.

"We never ban people from sharing information or linking news from websites. It was totally misunderstood," Nguyen Thanh Huyen, head of the ministry's Online Information Section, told Reuters.

"This is a normal decree which doesn't go against any human right commitments," she said, adding that particular article was aimed at protecting intellectual property and copyright.

The decree, however, does still outlaw the posting of content on the internet that harms national security and opposes the state. It does not elaborate on what constitutes a breach.

Reporters Without Borders on Monday called on Vietnam to end internet censorship and release 35 imprisoned bloggers. It said the motive of the authorities was to avert an uprising of the kind that toppled regimes in the Arab world.

"Vietnamese authorities have been cracking down harder in order to suppress dissent and prevent any detribalization," it said in a petition circulated online.

(Compiled by Nguyen Phuong Linh; Editing by Martin Petty)

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