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The singer raising her voice against Vietnam’s new cyber law | News

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Hanoi, Vietnam – Dressed in the traditional Vietnamese long gown known as “ao dai”, dissident artist Do Nguyen Mai Khoi holds up a banner in a silent protest amidst the roar of traffic in the capital’s Old Quarter.

The signs reads “undemocratic regime” but features the images of Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, of Facebook, and Eric Schmidt, of Google – rather than of those leading Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.

“I don’t criticise people in the government. I only criticise the system,” Mai Khoi said.

The 35-year-old singer-songwriter said she does not want to be accused of spreading “anti-state propaganda” and handed a lengthy prison sentence like others who have criticised Vietnam’s leaders in the streets or online.

After police signalled to her to end the demonstration or face arrest, Mai Khoi folded up her banner and moved it to Hanoi’s Long Bien Bridge. There, in a comment to media, she accused Facebook and Google of acting as dictatorships for cooperating with Vietnam’s government in removing critical content.

“We are losing the only space where we can express ourselves freely,” Mai Khoi said last week, days before Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law takes effect on Tuesday. “They now want to criminalise our activities on Facebook.”

Controversial cybersecurity law

Vietnam is a one-party state controlled by the communist party since it was reunified in 1975.

Home to some 95 million people, the country has more than 60 million Facebook users. Political activists and dissidents use the platform to discuss and share materials on issues such as human rights and democracy – risking being arrested and charged with spreading anti-state propaganda.

Under the new cybersecurity law, which was approved by legislators in June, the Vietnamese government has ordered US tech giants Facebook and Google – among others – to store its user data at offices inside the country. Vietnam has given the tech companies until 2020 to comply.

Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the Vietnamese prime minister, has stated that his government’s policies are promoting innovation and connectivity.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) has reportedly said the law’s enactment is “essential” as it will protect the country from increasing large-scale cyber attacks that result in serious economic losses and threaten its security and social order.

In a statement in November, the ministry said “the draft decree guiding the enforcement of some articles of the Law on Cyber Security does not run against the international agreements and conventions that Vietnam is member to”, citing comments by Major General Luong Tam Quang, director of the office of the MPS, during a press conference.

But the Asia Internet Coalition, the industry body representing both Facebook and Google, has said the new law “raises serious privacy and civil liberty concerns for the people of Vietnam and stands to significantly damage the country’s economic growth prospects” by resulting “in severe limitations on Vietnam’s digital economy”.

Critics also say the new law would allow the government to better monitor what is being said about it online, and arrest dissidents sharing “anti-state” material.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that Vietnam’s cybersecurity law is a “disaster” for freedom of expression. He went on to say that the country is seeking to extend its control of what’s being said about it on traditional media to social media.

Thirteen Vietnamese civil society groups meanwhile have signed a petition called Save Net asking the Vietnamese government to repeal or revise this law.

“Facebook doesn’t show what it’s doing to protect freedom of expression. It has recently locked activists out of their accounts and deleted their posts,” Mai Khoi said. “YouTube has even removed my song, We Want, and now it can’t be viewed inside Vietnam,” she added, referring to the video-sharing website owned by Google.

The lyrics in this song reflect Mai Khoi’s political activism: “We just want to be free … Want the right to be human, living free from tyranny. We want to stop our fear of authoritarianism.”





Mai Khoi: ‘We are losing the only space where we can express ourselves freely’ [Adam Bemma/Al Jazeera]

Ma Khoi’s political activism

The musician’s fight for freedom of expression in Vietnam began 10 years ago when she became a celebrated pop star – her hit song, Vietnam, won her many accolades.

But she went on to use her newfound fame to push for creative freedom and started writing music about the issues close to her heart, namely the growing use of social media and concerns over human rights.

Mai Khoi stopped submitting her lyrics to censors and her performances were effectively banned as police made it known she had been blacklisted.

“The police intervened in Mai Khoi’s concerts many times. They make it very hard for her to live and to make a living in Vietnam,” said Long Trinh, co-director of Legal Initiatives for Vietnam, a magazine focussing on the country’s political and legal issues. “The government is very worried about her activities.”

In 2016, Mai Khoi joined street protests against an environmental disaster caused by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, a Taiwanese company operating in central Vietnam.

Vietnamese police have often been accused of cracking down harshly on protesters, and Mai Khoi says that the violence she witnessed being used by the authorities in that demonstration affected her deeply. She even wrote a song about it.

“Every time I sing that song, I always cry because the scenes of that protest come back to me,” she said. “I hope that in the future Vietnam can have the laws to protect the rights of people to express themselves.”

That same year, Mai Khoi nominated herself as an independent candidate for Vietnam’s national assembly. This raised her profile with Vietnamese Facebook users as she campaigned primarily on the platform.

“That’s how I came to learn about her politics,” said Long Trinh. “She had a very good life as a pop star but she cares about others who suffer from injustice, who suffer from human rights violations. I think that says a lot about her.”

‘Dissidents seen as enemies of the state’

Faced with difficulties in performing inside Vietnam, Mai Khoi travels frequently abroad. Many believe it’s only allowed because of her high profile and to stop her from doing so would reflect poorly on Vietnam.

In 2018, Mai Khoi returned from a tour in the United States where she shared her story at the Oslo Freedom Forum in New York City.

Many Vietnamese dissidents are either in prison or placed under a travel ban by the government. According to the 88 Project for Freedom of Expression in Vietnam, there are currently 210 political prisoners with another 19 in pre-trial detention.

“I have no chance to go abroad or to attend any international meeting, so I’m happy if Mai Khoi can raise her voice outside of Vietnam for someone like me,” said Vietnamese human rights activist Chi Tuyen Nguyen.

Mai Khoi’s new album is titled Dissent. She named her band The Dissidents but they soon realised that this would cause them more problems with the authorities and changed it when the album was released in 2018.

“We decided to change because their families didn’t want them performing under that name. In Vietnam, dissidents are talked about on the news like they’re enemies of the state,” she said.

Inside Hanoi’s Phu Sa Lab theatre in upscale West Lake, Mai Khoi has started to perform weekly with her band. This is the only venue in Vietnam where the owner is willing to stand up to the strong-arm tactics of police.

The group’s show, Bamboo Talk, blends theatrical performance with experimental jazz music.

But the highlight of the show is Mai Khoi’s vocal range along with her traditional instrument and white ao dai outfit as she’s the only woman in the all-male cast.

“It’s the only space in Vietnam where I can express myself freely,” she said. “On Facebook, I’m not so sure anymore.”

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Tiger-Cats claim victory against the Argos to maintain home record on Labour Day

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The Hamilton Tiger-Cats were at their devastating best against the Toronto Argonauts when the two locked horns on Labour Day at the Tim Hortons Field.

Just like with previous Labour Day fixtures, the Ticats produced a stellar performance with Dane Evans throwing two touchdown passes while Frankie Williams scored on a 67-yard punt return as they claimed a 32-19 victory on Monday. With this vital win, the Ticats extended their Labour Day home record to 7-0.

For players and fans of the Tiger-Cats, games on Labour Day are a lot more special and losing is something the Ticats aren’t used to.

“We know the fans are going to be behind us, we know Toronto is going to be chippy, we know it’s going to be sunny; we know it’s going to be windy. Everything that happened (Monday) we prepared for. There is something extremely special about Tim Hortons Field on Labour Day . . . you can feel it in the air, I can’t put it into words,” said Evans.

After the COVID-19 induced hiatus, the CFL is back in full action and fans can now bet on their favourite teams and just like with online slots Canada, real money can be won. Hamilton (2-2) recorded its second straight win to move into a tie atop the CFL East Division standings with Montreal Alouettes (2-2). Also, the Ticats lead the overall Labour Day series with Toronto 36-13-1.

In the sun-drenched gathering of 15,000—the maximum allowed under Ontario government COVID-19 protocols—the fans loved every minute of this feisty game. After all, this was the Ticats first home game in 659 days, since their 36-16 East Division final win over Edmonton in November 2019.

The contest between the Ticats and Argos was certainly not bereft of emotions, typical of a Labour Day fixture, as it ended with an on-field melee. But the Argos often found themselves on the wrong end of the decisions with several penalty calls and most of the game’s explosive plays.

Hamilton quarterback Evans completed 21-of-29 passing for 248 yards and the two touchdowns while Toronto’s make-shift quarterback Arbuckle completed 18-of-32 attempts for 207 yards. Arbuckle also made a touchdown and two interceptions before eventually being substituted by McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Bethel-Thompson made an eight-yard TD pass to wide receiver Eric Rogers late in the final quarter of the game.

“They got after us a bit . . . we didn’t block, or pass protect well,” said Ryan Dinwiddie, rookie head coach of the Argos in a post-match interview. “They just kicked our butts; we’ve got to come back and be a better team next week.”

The Labour Day contest was the first of four fixtures this year between Toronto and Hamilton. The two teams would face off again on Friday at BMO Field. Afterwards, the Tim Hortons Field will play host to the Argonauts again on Oct. 11 with the regular-season finale scheduled for Nov. 12 in Toronto.

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Roughriders looking to bounce back after Labor Day defeat

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In what an unusual feeling for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, they would now need to dust themselves up after a 23-8 loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in what was a Labor Day Classic showdown in front of a full capacity crowd at Mosaic stadium.

Craig Dickenson, head coach of the Riders, witnessed his team with an unbeaten record get utterly dominated by a more superior team from Winnipeg. Now, he has got a lot of work on his hands getting his team back to winning ways as they visit the Banjo Bowl next.

“We’re going to see what we’re made of now…the jury’s out,” said Dickenson.

Dan Clark, who played centre for the Riders expressed his disappointment in losing what was “the biggest game of the year”.

 “If you lose every other game, you don’t want to lose that one. We’ve just got to take the next step,” said Clark in a report. “There are 12 steps to the Grey Cup left and it’s just about taking that next step and focusing on what Saturday will bring.”

With their first defeat to Winnipeg, the Riders (3-1) now rank second place in the CFL’s West Division, trailing the Bombers by one victory (4-1). However, the Riders will have the chance to even the season series during their trip to Winnipeg this Saturday. With the CFL heating up, fans can now enjoy online sports betting Canada as they look forward to their team’s victory.

The Rider’s offensive line will once again have a busy time dealing with the Blue Bombers’ defence.

Quarterback Cody Fajardo, who played one of the best games of his career two weeks earlier, had quite a stinker against the Bombers in the Labour Day Classic—which is the most anticipated game for Rider fans.

Fajardo had a 59 per cent completion percentage which wasn’t quite indicative of what the actual figure was considering he was at 50 per cent before going on a late drive in the final quarter with the Bombers already becoming laid back just to protect the win.

Fajardo also registered a personal worst when he threw three interceptions, but in all fairness, he was always swarmed by the Bomber’s defence.

While Fajardo has claimed responsibility for the loss and letting his teammates down, many would be curious to see how the team fares in their next game and with less than a week of preparation.

Dickenson is confident that his team would improve during their rematch in the 17th edition of the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg. The only challenge now would be the loss of home advantage and dealing with the noisy home crowd, he added.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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