Vietnamese authorities have arrested a local underground publisher on his return home after he received an international award for courageously upholding the freedom to publish, an industry group said Monday.
The Geneva-based International Publishers Association (IPA) said Bui Chat, who was awarded the Freedom to Publish Prize in Buenos Aires last week, was held at the weekend. The award and prize certificate have been confiscated.
"We were really hoping that nothing would happen. I mean we have given the Freedom To Publish Prize for many years, and this is the first time the government arrests the prize winner upon his return to his country," Alexis Krikorian, director of IPA's Freedom to Publish panel, said in an interview.
Bui Chat is the founder of Giay Vun Publishing House, which is devoted to printing and publishing of the works of Vietnam’s “pavement poets” beyond the reach of censorship authorities.
Under Bui Chat’s leadership, Giay Vun has directly assisted in the establishment in Vietnam of other publishing houses that operate independently and freely, publishing the works of banned authors and historians, IPA said in a statement.
According to reports received by the IPA, Bui Chat was issued a preliminary detention order after Vietnamese authorities searched his home.
He may face up to nine months' imprisonment for the "purpose of investigation" before an official charge is framed, the association said.
Poet Ly Doi, the co-founder of Giay Vun, was also ordered to report for interrogation, IPA said.
Both men have also been evicted from their rented apartment. The landlord is reported to have said that he was under pressure and ordered by the local security police to evict them.
"We are talking about a young man who is now put behind bars, who is apparently evicted from his rented apartment," Krikorian said. "The landlord is reported to have said he is under the pressure by the local authorities."
Call for release
The IPA has called on governments and human rights advocates to join publishers in pushing for Bui Chat’s immediate release, saying the arrest appears to be "directly linked" to his winning of the IPA Freedom to Publish Prize.
Human rights groups have constantly criticized Vietnam for lack of freedom of expression. All traditional media in the country are controlled by the state.
In accepting the award on April 25, Bui Chat said: “Books have the power to make the world free; freedom for those who publish books, for those who read books, and for those who discuss what books bring to them."
"We hope this award will be a significant boost to the development of the independent publishing movement and civil society in Vietnam.”
Reported for RFA’s Vietnamese service and translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.