Vietnam’s journalists and social media users face a new obstacle to independent reporting through a government decree that imposes harsh penalties for sharing information deemed harmful to the country.Observers and rights activists see the decree, due to go into effect Dec. 1, as part of Hanoi’s increasing efforts to tighten control over the news media.Since January, Vietnam Vietnamese journalist Pham Doan Trang was awarded a 2019 Press Freedom Prize for Impact, Sept. 12, 2019, in Berlin. “I hope this award will encourage the Vietnamese people to engage more in press freedom,” she told VOA Vietnamese.FILE – Vietnamese television anchor Hoang Phuong works in a studio of VTC Television during a news program in Hanoi, Vietmam, May 2, 2018.Vo said the decree appears part of a consistent policy by the government to “always stifle press freedom.”“The Vietnamese press is not the same as overseas. The country is governed by one-party rule. It does not accept pluralism or multiparty. It does not accept criticism,” Vo said. “They explicitly and unequivocally declare that the press is a propaganda tool of the party and state.”Vietnam has a poor record for free media, ranking 175 out of 180 countries, where 1 is the most free, on an annual index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).RSF said the “level of terror has risen sharply in the past two years, with many citizen-journalists being jailed or expelled in connection with their posts.”Journalists at state-run and state-approved outlets have to register and meet certain requirements, such as having a press card and press activity permit. Because of that, bloggers and independent journalists like Vo often use social media platforms to publish reporting.But independent journalists, such as Pham Doan Trang, who was jailed earlier this month, are at greater risk of arrest.FILE – Press releases are pictured on April 25, 2018, in Paris during a press conference of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) to present its World Press Freedom Index.The journalist’s Oct. 6 arrest “is another leap forward into an outright crackdown by the Communist Party of Vietnam,” Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, told VOA Vietnamese.“RSF is appalled by the arrest of Pham Doan Trang, who was honored with our Press Freedom Award for Impact exactly one year ago. Her only crime was to provide her fellow citizens with trustful information and enable them to fully exercise their rights,” Bastard said.Pham, an outspoken democracy activist and author, was arrested on anti-state propaganda charges, police and state media said.Rights groups condemned the arrest, which took place hours after annual U.S.-Vietnam human rights talks, and they warned that the blogger risked torture in custody.Pham, who was arrested at an apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, is accused of “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” To An Xo, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Public Security, said.The blogger writes about legal issues, citizen rights and politics, and in September he released a joint investigative report into a government attack on a village that was the center of a land dispute.The U.S. State Department expressed concern over Pham’s arrest.“Her detention could impact freedom of expression in Vietnam. We urge the Vietnamese government to ensure its actions and laws are consistent with Vietnam’s international obligations and commitments,” the State Department said in a statement sent to VOA via email.This story originated in VOA’s Vietnam Service.