Vietnamese authorities are closely monitoring those paying their respects to an outspoken blogger’s mother who self-immolated over concerns about her daughter’s upcoming trial on charges of conducting propaganda against the state.
Dang Thi Kim Lieng, the mother of Catholic blogger Ta Phong Tan, died Monday after burning herself in front of a government building in southern Vietnam’s Bac Lieu city.
Activists, bloggers, and other supporters made their way to Lieng’s house in Bac Lieu this week but many of them were intercepted and delayed along the way by police, sources said.
Some of them were caught in “bogus” traffic stops, the sources said, in an apparent bid by the authorities to prevent them from joining the long stream of mourners.
Truong Minh Nguyet, a former political prisoner who on Wednesday headed an activist group traveling to Bac Lieu from Ho Chi Minh City, about 200 km (120 miles) away, said police had stopped him for allegedly riding a stolen motorcycle.
“We have faced a lot of prevention along the way,” he said, speaking to RFA while en route.
“We are still 20 kilometers away from the house. However, in spite of any obstacles, we are determined to complete this trip,” he said, later confirming that his group did make it to the house.
At the home, police kept tabs on who had come to share their condolences, sources said.
Ta Minh Tu, another of Lieng’s daughters, told RFA after the funeral that many plainclothes police were present around the home.
She said that they were keeping track of family members and monks who performed the funeral rites and were mingling with guests as part of an effort to “intimidate” the visitors.
Vietnam on Thursday made the first public comment on Lieng’s self-immolation, which has not been reported in the country’s tightly controlled state media.
"The case is now under investigation," Foreign Minister Luong Thanh Nghi told Agence France-Presse.
The statement follows messages of concern from international rights groups and the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi about the self-immolation and the blogger’s upcoming trial.
The embassy said it is “deeply concerned and saddened” by the incident and called for the release of Tan and two other high-profile bloggers facing trial Aug. 7.
Tan, 43, who was a member of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party before she became a freelance journalist and blogged about abuses in Vietnam’s legal system, remains in custody and is set to go on trial in Ho Ch Minh City alongside Phan Thanh Hai and Nguyen Van Hai (also known as Dieu Cay).
The three stand accused of “denigrating the party and state" for politically critical blogging and for posting hundreds of articles on a banned website known as the "Free Journalists Club" of Vietnam.
They face a maximum of 20 years in prison, based on charges under Article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code, a draconian provision that prohibits “conducting propaganda against the state.”
Reported by Khanh An. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by James Bourne.