The family of a prominent Vietnamese blogger arrested 10 days ago for “anti-state” writings has appealed to the authorities for his release, citing health reasons, but police say investigations haven’t ended.
Nguyen Quang Lap, a 58 year-old award-winning writer and member of the Vietnam Writers’ Association, was arrested on Dec. 6 at his home in Ho Chi Minh City, under an ambiguous law used to crack down on online dissent.
His family sent a letter to the prosecutor’s office requesting his release on account of his inability to take care of himself because of paralysis from a stroke he previously suffered, but has not yet received a response, Lap’s wife, Ho Thi Hong, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“The police said they have sent his file to the prosecutor’s office, and now they have to wait for the order from that office before they can release him,” she said.
“They told me to wait until tomorrow for the decision. They are waiting for the decision from the prosecutor’s office, too. I can only send supplies in to him, but they won’t let me see him. About three or four days ago, Lap sent a letter telling me that he was OK.”
The police claimed on their website that Lap had admitted to violating the law and asked to be pardoned so he could return home, although this cannot be verified.
“He promised to abandon his activities that violated the law and just focus on literary work that serves society,” the notice on the police website said.
Lap’s writings critical of the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party leadership had been posted on his blog “Que Choa” (“Dad’s Homeland”).
More than a dozen security officers had searched Lap’s home on Dec. 6, according to reports, and detained him for violating Article 258 of the Penal Code, which pertains to “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
Authorities often have cited this provision of the law to make arbitrary arrests of bloggers, activists and lawyers.
At the time of Lap’s arrest, Ho Chi Minh City police said they would launch a further probe into his “law-violating” activities to deal with them in accordance with the law, according to a report by Vietnam’s official Thanh Nien newspaper.
Freelance journalist Vo Van Tao told RFA that although Lap himself was not active in politics, he sometimes posted on his blog some links criticizing the government’s policies or certain societal problems.
“I don’t think his blog is that sensitive, so his arrest is very questionable, and it has created a lot of concern,” he said.
“We can only assume that because his blog is among the most visited blogs in Vietnam with many shares, perhaps the police were not right when they arrested him because there are many other websites that are more critical, but their owners are only warned, not arrested.”
Opinions about Lap’s arrest have ranged from speculation that he may have sided with one faction within the Communist Party of Vietnam to the government’s desire to stifle criticism and teach bloggers a lesson.
Writer Pham Viet Dao, who was recently released after being arrested for violating Article 258, said he believed that Lap was arrested because of his fondness of Vo Nguyen Giap, the late politician and general who led the Vietnam People’s Army, but that Lap himself did not belong to any faction behind the scene.
“He only collects news,” Dao told RFA.
“This case is like my case because in my case they thought I had received orders from President Truong Tan Sang to write, and so I belonged to some faction,” he said.
The Communist Party is believed to be divided into camps belonging to Sang and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
But journalist Bui Van Bong of a military newspaper in Can Tho city told RFA that anyone who posts articles online must make sure their content adheres to the Party’s line.
"Blogs are between two currents of water, so they are under pressure from both currents,” he told RFA.
“I think Lap’s blog was a sincere contribution based on his own opinion. It is light even in its contribution to the Party, so it does not create any chaos in society… I read Lap’s blog and did not see anything too major.”
Reported by Mac Lam of RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.