Vietnamese police detained a prominent lawyer and blogger on Thursday as he dropped his daughter off at school, adding to the growing number of dissidents and activists put behind bars in the one-party communist state for writing on politically sensitive topics.
Le Quoc Quan, who blogs on a range of subjects including democracy, civil rights, and religious freedom, was taken into custody in Hanoi, his brother Le Quoc Quyet said in a telephone interview with Agence France-Presse.
Quyet said his brother had been arrested because of his political views, adding that his family had been told Quan would be tried for “tax evasion,” a charge frequently used to jail and silence government critics.
Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said that Quan’s arrest is the latest step in a “political vendetta” waged by Vietnamese authorities.
“[They] have been pursuing a political vendetta against Le Quoc Quan for several years, and now we see a tax evasion charge coming out of nowhere, just as in the Dieu Cay case previously,” Robertson told RFA.
Outspoken Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hai, also known by his pen name Dieu Cay, was jailed for two and a half years for “tax fraud” and finished his prison term in October 2010, but was immediately rearrested on charges of “conducting propaganda” against the state.
A court in Ho Chi Minh City is expected to hear his appeal of a further 12-year sentence on Friday along with the appeals of two other bloggers sentenced on the same charge, according to AFP.
Quan was jailed for three months in 2007 for "activities to overthrow the people's government" but was freed following protests from the United States.
In August this year, he was beaten by police in an attack, and in early December Quan told AFP that his family was under "much pressure," with both his brother and a female cousin held in detention.
Quan also took part in a series of anti-China demonstrations last year over Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Vietnamese authorities have been accused by rights groups of maintaining some of the harshest media controls in Asia.
But Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung this week underlined his government's determination to suppress online dissent, ordering authorities to crack down on anyone using the Internet to "defame and spread propaganda against the party and state."
At least 10 bloggers and activists have been convicted this year under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code, a provision rights groups say has been used by Hanoi recently to silence bloggers and activists who use the Internet to promote free expression.
At least half a dozen others have been charged and are awaiting trial.
Chosen for awards
Last week, five Vietnamese bloggers were among 41 writers chosen to receive the 2012 Hellman/Hammett grants, administered by Human Rights Watch, for their commitment to free expression.
Selected for the award were religious-freedoms advocate Nguyen Huu Vinh, rights defender Pham Minh Hoang, freelance journalist Vu Quoc Tu, novelist Huynh Ngoc Tuan, and social commentator Huynh Thuc Vy.
All five have been persecuted for their writings.
“Like other Vietnamese exercising their rights to free expression, many of the country’s growing corps of bloggers are increasingly threatened, assaulted, or even jailed for peacefully expressing their views,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“We are honored to amplify the voices the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party wants to prevent from participating in public discussions of Vietnam’s many social and political problems,” Adams said.
Reported by Richard Finney.