Authorities in Vietnam arrested four members of a prodemocracy group on charges of attempting to topple the country’s one-party state over the weekend, drawing condemnation from their organization and Paris-based rights campaigners who demanded their unconditional release Monday.
On Sunday, police detained Protestant pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, 45, engineer Pham Van Troi, 45, journalist Truong Minh Duc, 57, and lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, 49, according to a statement on the website of Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security.
The four men—all members of the online group Brotherhood for Democracy—were charged with “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code and could face the death penalty if convicted.
They have all served prior jail sentences for anti-state activities and were connected to lawyer Nguyen Van Dai, who helped to found the Brotherhood for Democracy in 2013 and was arrested in December 2015 on charges of “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code.
Communist Vietnam, where all media are state-run, does not tolerate dissent, and rights groups identify Articles 79 and 88 as among the vague provisions that authorities use to detain and jail dozens of writers and bloggers.
In a statement Monday, the Brotherhood for Democracy slammed what it called the “suppression, detention, and prosecution” of its four members, as well as the arrest and imprisonment of several other activists amid an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Vietnam.
The group demanded that Vietnam’s government “unconditionally release those arrested in a transparent manner,” in addition to the country’s other jailed activists and prisoners of conscience.
It also called on the citizens of Vietnam, rights groups, and the international community to pressure the government over “suppressed cases” in the country.
The democracy group’s condemnation of the arrests was echoed by Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), whose founder and president Vo Van Ai said in a separate statement on Monday that they “showed the Vietnamese government’s determination to suppress the rights movement.”
VCHR said the four men had been detained under a “very vague national security provision” and called for their immediate release.
The arrests follow the conviction under Article 88 last week of prominent activist Tran Thi Nga, 40, and last month 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.
Nga was arrested on Jan. 21, for posting videos and articles about labor and land issues online that were described by government prosecutors at her trial as “anti-state propaganda,” though she has rejected that they constituted a national security offense.
Quynh was arrested on Oct. 10, 2016, for openly voicing her opinions on the deaths of people in police custody, Vietnam’s sovereignty over the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, and the government’s handling of a toxic waste spill off the country’s central coast in April of last year.
Rights groups, the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission, and several governments have demanded their release, saying the two were convicted on vaguely worded charges.
Also on Monday, Quynh’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that her daughter’s health was in “poor condition” after meeting with her at the Khanh Hoa Provincial Detention Center where she is serving her sentence.
“Quynh’s health was not good and she was suffering from a condition in which her fingers are cramping up,” she said, adding that the symptoms had started two weeks ago.
According to Lan, Quynh had “not been provided enough medicine” or a way to drink powdered milk she had been given.
Lan was granted a 10-minute meeting with her daughter on Monday after receiving permission from the head of the detention center, Pham Quang Nham. Aside from at Quynh’s trial in June, it was the first time Lan had seen her daughter since her arrest last year.
Quynh, who was honored this year with the U.S. State Department’s International Woman of Courage Award for her work highlighting rights abuses and promoting peaceful dissent in the one-party state, had been held incommunicado since October.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.