A prominent blogger and her two colleagues were briefly detained this week by authorities in southern Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa province after distributing leaflets and balloons promoting international human rights standards.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh—who blogs as Me Nam, meaning “Mother Mushroom”—said in an interview after her release that she and her friends Pham Thanh Hai and Nguyen Tien Nam, also known as Binh Nhi, were handing out copies of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Tuesday in Nha Trang city when they were detained.
“I went to April 2 Avenue to distribute the declaration of human rights while some friends gave kids balloons that said our human rights should be respected,” Quynh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“Police came and told me to go to the Loc Tho commune police station” along with Pham Thanh Hai and Nguyen Tien Nam at around 5:00 p.m., she said.
Quynh was released late on Tuesday night, while Hai and Nam were held for 24 hours.
Their detention followed a move earlier this month by authorities to shut down “human rights picnics” in Nha Trang, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City, where bloggers and activists gathered in public parks to discuss the declaration and other rights issues but ended up beaten, interrogated, or arrested.
Quynh said that she had distributed copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—which Vietnam has ratified—to inform the Vietnamese people of what Vietnam agreed to when it became a member of the United Nations in 1977.
“When I was arguing with the police … many people crowded around and demanded that I be allowed to show them the declaration. They wanted to read it to understand for themselves that it wasn’t a ‘horrible’ document.”
After she was taken to the local police station, authorities told her that she did not have permission to distribute the rights declaration.
“They confiscated all the leaflets and wrote a report, all while filming me as if I were a criminal,” she said.
“After that they took me to the provincial police office for additional interrogation until midnight.”
Quynh said that her interrogators were “very intimidating and tense,” but said that she remained calm, asking them to explain to her exactly why she had been detained.
“They only said that what I did wasn’t wrong, but that it was ‘not right’ either,” she said, adding that they were unable to give her a clear answer of how she had violated the law.
“It was strange that many policemen refused to touch the declaration. They looked at it like it was some kind of poisonous document.”
When Quynh was given permission to leave the police station, she told her interrogators that she wanted to wait until Hai and Nam were also released, but authorities made her return home.
“They said that my daughter needed my help to prepare for a school exam and reminded me that my young son was sick, so I should go home and they would let my friends out later…. I decided to go home and return the next morning,” she said.
She returned to the Khanh Hoa provincial police station Wednesday and waited there until her friends were released.
Quynh has been held by authorities several times in the past for “abuse of democratic freedoms and infringing on the national benefit” after writing damning blog posts concerning China's intervention in Vietnam.
Her writings have largely focused on Beijing's financing of a controversial bauxite mine in the Central Highlands and its claims to disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Police surveillance and harassment is a common experience for dissident bloggers in Vietnam, which is listed by press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders as an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Vietnamese authorities have jailed and harassed dozens of bloggers, citizen journalists, and activists over their online writings since stepping up a crackdown on freedom of expression in recent years.
Many have been jailed under Article 88 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code for “conducting propaganda against the state,” and international rights groups and press freedom watchdogs have accused Hanoi of using the vaguely worded provision to silence dissent.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.