Reporters Without Borders said Thursday it condemns a new crackdown on Vietnam’s bloggers and human rights activists.
“The authorities are stopping at nothing to silence dissidents, following them, assaulting them, subjecting them to heavy-handed interrogation and holding them illegally,” Reporters Without Borders said. “They are acting like thugs with peaceful bloggers because they fear that a wave of anti-Chinese demonstrations could pose a threat to internal stability.
“Activists whose only crime is having tried to satisfy their fellow citizens’ right to news and information must be released without delay. We also call for the immediate release of Nguyen Van Hai, a blogger better known by the pen-name of Dieu Cay, who continues to be harassed while detained.”
Followed, assaulted and interrogated
The blogger Vi Hoang Nguyen was injured in Ho Chi Minh City on July 13 by plainclothes security agents, who had been following her all day as she visited her mother in hospital and then went to celebrate the birthday of three other bloggers – Tien Kim Trinh, Trang Dem and Hang Minh Bui. As the bloggers were used to this kind of surveillance, they paid little attention to the government agents.
After the party, Nguyen and Bui left in the same car with three other people (Lee Nguyen, Quyet Le and Tan Thi Duong, the wife of the well-known detained blogger Dieu Cay). Eight government agents followed them in their own vehicle and, at one point, drove close to the bloggers’ car and smashed its rear window. The shattered glass cut Nguyen’s face, arms and legs. Bui and Lee Nguyen also sustained cuts.
Nguyen has been constantly followed by individuals, who photograph her during all of her movements, ever since she was interrogated and arrested by National Security officers on July 1 after participating in demonstration against China.
The blogger Huynh Thuc Vy was arrested by police and National Security officers on July 4 and was held overnight. While held, she was subjected to mistreatment which she described in an interview for Radio Free Asia. A local sources speaking on condition of anonymity told Reporters Without Borders that her computers and phones were confiscated.
Vy and her husband, Le Khanh Duy, were interrogated for more than 12 hours on July 1 after attending a demonstration against China. They have been followed everywhere since then by agents who have harassed them and, on several occasions, invited them to accompany them to a police station for an aggressive interrogation.
The authorities used heady-handed intimidation in an attempt to dissuade activists from attending another demonstration during the weekend of July 14.
Blogger Dieu Cay still held
Nguyen Van Hai, the blogger better known as Dieu Cay, should have been released on October 19, 2010 on completing a 30-month jail sentence on a trumped-up charge of tax fraud, but new charges were brought against him. He is now accused of anti-government propaganda under article 88 of the criminal code.
He has been held since April 2008, when he was arrested on the tax fraud charge seven months after he and two other bloggers – Phan Thanh Hai (who uses the pen-name of Anhbasg) and Ta Phong Tan – founded the Free Journalists Club.
Dieu Cay’s continuing detention is illegal because the case has not been brought to trial. This violates article 176 (2) of the 2003 criminal code, which stipulates that a case must be brought before a judge within three months at the most – a deadline that a judge can extend by another 15 to 30 days, depending in the gravity of the charges.
Dieu Cay told his family on July 3, during one of the rare visits he is permitted, that his detention had now been extended until 18 July. He has refused to plead guilty to the charge and continues to defend the right to free speech. His family is worried about his declining health, especially as he is reportedly been subjected to worse conditions for refusing to sign a confession.
Jailed for speaking to foreign media
Three activists who defend peasant rights were given sentences of up to five and a half years in prison on July 16 on charges of anti-government propaganda. They were arrested in June 2011 after giving interviews to foreign media in which they accused the Communist Party and government officials of human rights violations. The activists were also accused of inciting peasants to take part in demonstrations against China’s territorial policies in the South China Sea.
Aware of the unrest in the Arab world and the recent pro-democracy reforms in Burma, Vietnam’s paranoid authorities have been reinforcing control and repressive measures in a bid to head off any destabilization.
Vietnam is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet.” At least 18 people are currently detained for expressing their views freely online. This makes it the world’s third largest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, after China and Iran.