An outspoken Vietnamese blogger said he was released Thursday after being held by police on his return home following a six-month trip abroad and questioned about his activities aimed at challenging his country’s strict media controls.
Nguyen Lan Thang, who began blogging for RFA’s Vietnamese Service last month, was detained at Hanoi’s Noi Bai airport Wednesday night after returning from trips to Thailand, the Philippines, and Europe, where he met with U.N. human rights officials and with media and advocacy groups.
Police freed the blogger on Thursday afternoon after interrogating him overnight, friends said.
“I’m fine now, though I had a very tiring night last night,” Thang told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Thursday by phone.
He said the Vietnamese authorities were particularly interested in his campaign for the abolition of Article 258, a provision in Vietnam’s penal code that has been used to jail dissidents, and about his training stint in the Philippines.
“[The police] wanted to know about my activities related to Declaration 258 and the civil society class operated by Asian Bridge,” a Manila-based human rights and civil society organization, Thang said.
Police on his trail
Thang said that police have frequently followed him in the past.
In an apparent rebuke to state authorities later posted to his Facebook page, Thang “apologized” for the resources taken up by his detention and questioning.
“I have used too much of our people’s tax money since yesterday,” he said.
Thang, who lives in Hanoi with his wife, was among a group of Vietnamese bloggers who met with U.N. human rights officials in Bangkok in July to report on rights violations in their home country.
The group presented officials with a petition, titled Declaration 258, which calls for the removal from Vietnam’s penal code of Article 258, which prohibits “abusing democratic freedoms” and has been used to jail dissidents.
Following the Bangkok talks, Thang went to Manila with a dozen other young activists for a training stint with Asian Bridge Philippines and then to a conference in Dublin, Ireland, before returning to the Thai capital for other meetings.
'Learned a lot'
Thang said that he had “learned a lot” from the two-week training program in Manila and from his other talks held abroad, adding, “I will definitely write about that.”
“There are many things I did not know before my trip. Now, I have learned many things about the operation of foreign organizations.”
“Activities in civil society stem from the demands of the people,” Thang said, adding, “Through many aspects of these activities in different places, people gradually come to know their rights and roles, and their demands will be met.”
“This is why the spread of such activities is irreversible, and will not be stopped by arrests or jail sentences,” he said.
Many of Thang’s family members, some of whom “hold important positions in society,” now support him in his work, he said.
“At the beginning, many of them worried about my activities, but gradually they came to understand and support me because of the transparency in what I do.”
“Freedom of expression is one of the most important human rights,” Thang said in a video sent to RFA last month.
“If it is restricted, social development will be distorted because there will be no one to give feedback on public policies.”
Thang has published two blog posts for RFA so far.
More than 40 Vietnamese bloggers and activists have been imprisoned so far this year, rights groups say, with many jailed under vaguely worded security provisions.
Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 172nd out of 179 countries on its press freedom index and lists the country as an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Reported by Mac Lam for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.