Authorities in central Vietnam’s Nghe An province have taken activist Nguyen Viet Dung into custody for allegedly disseminating anti-state propaganda, according to his father, who said the reason for his son’s arrest was unclear.
Dung, 31, was arrested around noon on Wednesday in Nghe An’s Quynh Luu district, near Song Ngoc parish, under Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, his father, Nguyen Viet Hung, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service after the detention.
“My friends told me the news,” he said, noting that police had “only issued an announcement [acknowledging the arrest] due to strong public pressure.”
Hung said he opposed his son’s arrest because “the reason was not made clear enough.”
Disseminating anti-state propaganda in Vietnam is a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Dung is widely known in Vietnam’s online community as Dung Phi Ho, and gained a following after posting photos of himself wearing the uniform of the former Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), which was defeated by the Communist Viet Cong at the end of the Vietnam War, and posing in front of its flag.
In April 2015, the activist established the Republican Party, which is not recognized by the state in one-party Vietnam, and the Loyalist Association of the ARVN.
He has also regularly participated in protests against China’s influence over Vietnam and its territorial claims in the South China Sea, and expressed views critical of the Vietnamese government.
Dung was arrested in April 2015 under Article 245 for “disturbing public order” after taking part in a rally calling for the protection of trees in the capital Hanoi and sentenced that December to a 15-month prison term.
His sentence was later commuted by an appeals court to 12 months and he was released in April 2016. Prison terms in Vietnam regularly include time served in pre-trial detention.
Crackdown on dissent
Dung’s arrest is the latest in a series carried out by authorities this year against campaigners who have engaged in peaceful activities to voice criticism of Hanoi’s policies.
At the end of July, authorities arrested four members of a prodemocracy group on charges of attempting to topple the country’s one-party state, drawing condemnation from their organization and international rights campaigners who demanded their unconditional release.
The four men—all members of the online group Brotherhood for Democracy—were charged under Article 79 for attempting to overthrow the government or joining organizations with the “intent” to do so and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Their arrests followed the conviction under Article 88 in July of prominent activist Tran Thi Nga, 40, and in June of 38-year-old blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, also known as Mother Mushroom (Me Nam), under the same charges.
The women were sentenced to nine and 10 years in prison, respectively.
Rights groups, the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, and several governments have demanded their release, saying the two were convicted on vaguely worded charges.
Communist Vietnam, where all media are state-controlled, does not tolerate dissent, and rights groups identify Article 79 and Article 88 as among a set of vague provisions that authorities have used to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.