Authorities in Vietnam on Wednesday detained dissident lawyer Nguyen Van Dai on charges of “propaganda against the state,” according to his wife and state media, one week after masked assailants beat him in what he called a reprisal for educating members of the public about their human rights.
Dai, 46, was taken into custody by more than two dozen police officers after they searched his home in the capital Hanoi, confiscating many of their possessions as “evidence” of his alleged crime, his wife Vu Minh Khanh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Khanh said her husband was on his way to meet with representatives of the European Union, which had held a bilateral dialogue with Vietnam in Hanoi on human rights a day earlier, when 25-30 police officers arrived at their home around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
“My husband had left home for a meeting with the EU, but [the police] escorted him back,” she said of Dai, a well-known rights lawyer and former political prisoner who occasionally writes blog posts for RFA.
“They arrested my husband under Article 88 and informed us that he would be temporarily jailed for four months at B14 Prison [in Hanoi].”
According to Khanh, police confiscated two laptops and a desktop computer, several USB sticks, a camera and two camcorders, as well as the couple’s bank book for their savings account and “anything with a human rights logo.”
“A T-shirt with the words ‘Hong Kong today, Vietnam tomorrow,’ another which said ‘Anti-Crime’ and all of our reading on civil society produced by the U.S. Embassy were among the things taken,” she said.
“They consider everything in my house evidence of his ‘anti-government stance.’”
Khanh said the police also confiscated all of their media about Christianity.
“We believe in Jesus. I told them that was our religion … but they ignored my words,” she said.
Khanh told RFA she was disheartened because Dai’s arrest for violating Article 88, which rights groups say is frequently used to imprison peaceful activists in the one party communist nation, marks the second time he was targeted for propaganda against the state.
Between 2007 and 2011, Dai served four years in prison on the same charges and his license to practice law has since been revoked.
“I feel so upset because this is the second time it happened to my husband, but this time I was braver than before, when I fainted,” she said.
“I absolutely opposed the arrest and my husband said the same, but there was nothing we could do against a display of force like that.”
A copy of the report detailing the police search of Nguyen Van Dai's home in Hanoi and his arrest. Credit: Vu Minh Khanh
Vu Minh Khanh
In a statement posted on its website, the Ministry of Public Security said it had issued a warrant Tuesday for Dai’s arrest, and that it had been implemented the following day by police at his home.
“The case is being investigated and dealt with according to law,” the statement said, without providing details about what Dai had done to incur the charges.
Under Article 88 of the Penal Code, he faces between three and 20 years in jail if convicted.
Dai was detained one month before the National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam, which is held once every five years and is often preceded by a crackdown on dissent.
His arrest also came just one week after more than 10 unidentified men wielding clubs beat Dai and his fellow activists after they led a class to educate residents of Nghe An province about their human rights.
He told RFA’s Vietnamese Service at the time that he believed he was targeted because the government has been unable to stop him and his supporters from campaigning, adding that the incident would not dissuade him from carrying out his work.
Founder of the dissident Committee for Human Rights in Vietnam in 2006—now called the Vietnam Human Rights Centre—Dai was one of the original signatories to an online petition on Freedom and Democracy for his homeland which garnered the support of thousands.Call for release
London-based Amnesty International slammed Dai’s detention in a statement Wednesday, calling for his immediate and unconditional release.
“Nguyen Van Dai is a brave and passionate activist who has been raising awareness domestically and internationally about human rights violations in a country that tolerates no dissent,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“His arrest highlights Vietnam’s spurious commitment to human rights. He must be immediately and unconditionally released.”
Patel also called the timing of Dai’s arrest “worrying,” saying it could signal the beginning of a crackdown similar to those which preceded previous party congresses.
“Rather than locking up its critics, Vietnam should be looking on the party congress as an opportunity to reform and to move the country towards a genuine commitment to human rights,” he said.
Patel said Vietnamese authorities should take immediate steps to end intimidation, harassment and other forms of attacks against human rights activists, and establish an independent body to investigate and bring suspected perpetrators to justice.Human rights dialogue
Earlier this week, New York-based Human Rights Watch had called for the EU to “press for concrete and measurable improvements on human rights” ahead of its bilateral dialogue with Vietnam in Hanoi—the outcome of which it said should be made public.
Human Rights Watch said that essential reforms include ending politically motivated trials and convictions, the release of political prisoners, guarantees on freedom of association and labor rights, and religious freedom.
It said that authorities in Vietnam appear to have changed tactics from arrests to intimidation and violence, with assaults against bloggers and rights activists worsening significantly during 2015, adding that the country still holds at least 130 political prisoners.
Last month, lawyers Tran Thu Nam and Le Van Luan, who had advised the family of a young man who died in police custody, were brutally attacked in Hanoi by a group of thugs wearing masks, leaving them bloody and bruised.
At the time, Dai told RFA that the government may have ordered the attack to set an example for others who might try to challenge the authorities.Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Khiem Le. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.