Plainclothes police officers in Vietnam “savagely” beat civil society activist Pham Thanh Nghien Tuesday after a prominent blogger and her two colleagues tried to meet with her to discuss a nationwide campaign to free the country’s political prisoners.
Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh—who blogs as Me Nam, meaning “Mother Mushroom”—said that she, and fellow bloggers Nguyen Tien Nam and Duong Lam, traveled Tuesday morning from the capital Hanoi to Nghien’s home in Haiphong where they were confronted by plainclothes officers at her gate.
“They would not allow the taxi in on the pretext that the driveway was under renovation, but when we got out, they rushed toward us and ordered us to leave or go to the local security office,” Quynh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service, after returning to Hanoi later that evening.
Quynh said she argued with the officers and that the commotion drew Nghien out of her home, which is situated between 20 and 30 meters (65 and 100 feet) from the gate.
Nghien, who is a member of the Former Vietnamese Prisoners of Conscience association and is currently under probation, recognized the men as being from among a group of officers who regularly monitor her home, and demanded that they allow the trio to meet with her.
“At that point, they separated us, driving Nghien into a corner and beating her savagely. It happened so fast that we couldn’t do anything,” she said.
“[The officers] were comprised of 30 men, while our group had only three women. They also beat two other ladies from Nghien’s family [her sister and sister-in-law].”
Nghien and her sisters were struck about the face and suffered bruises, which were treated at their home, said Quynh, who added that she and her colleagues were forced to return to Hanoi without meeting the activist and former political prisoner.
Nghien, who is a member of several civic organizations, was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of probation in January 2010 for going on a nonviolent hunger strike to protest China’s claim to the disputed Hoang Sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly) islands, which are also claimed by Vietnam.
Quynh and Nam were briefly detained, along with a colleague Pham Thanh Hai, by authorities in Southern Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa province in May 2013 after distributing leaflets and balloons promoting international human rights standards.
Quynh has been held by authorities several times in the past for “abuse of democratic freedoms and infringing on the national benefit” after writing damning blog posts concerning China's intervention in Vietnam, including Beijing's financing of a controversial bauxite mine in the Central Highlands and its claims in the South China Sea.
Police surveillance and harassment is a common experience for dissident bloggers in Vietnam, which is listed by press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders as an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Government critics and bloggers are usually charged under Article 258 of the country’s penal code, which critics say is vaguely worded and used to prosecute anyone who speaks out against the government.
Because the state controls the media, the Vietnamese have turned to blogs and social media for news that contains less propaganda.
As of the end of last year, Vietnam had detained 29 bloggers for “abusing democratic freedoms,” “subversion,” “antigovernment propaganda” or “trying to overthrow the government,” according to Reporters Without Borders.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International said in April that Vietnam had at least 60 prisoners of conscience, including bloggers—many of whom were convicted for peacefully expressing their views after unfair trials.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Gia Minh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.