Three outspoken Vietnamese bloggers detained for criticizing the one-party communist state remain in legal limbo after authorities scheduled their trial Friday and then abruptly postponed it.
Influential blogger Nguyen Van Hai – also known by his online alias Dieu Cay – and fellow writers Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan, have been expecting a court date since they were accused last month of “distorting the truth” and “denigrating the party and state” on the “Free Journalists Club” website they had co-founded.
On Friday, the future of their case seemed clearer after the bloggers and their lawyers were given court notices informing them a hearing was scheduled for May 15.
“[All four] lawyers received the court notice first. It was sent to us by mail, and we received it later on,” Nguyen Van Hai’s wife told RFA.
But just hours after receiving the notice on Friday, the lawyers were informed that the trial would be postponed indefinitely.
"In the morning they sent a notice to our office, but at about three o'clock, the court's secretary phoned, telling me that the hearing scheduled for May 15 would be postponed,” Ha Huy Son, one of Nguyen Van Hai’s lawyers, told RFA.
Nguyen Van Hai’s other lawyer Nguyen Quoc Dat also told RFA that the trial had been pushed back.
Nguyen Van Hai, whose case has been raised by international rights groups, has already been held in custody a year beyond his scheduled release October 2010 from detention on other charges.
The influential blogger was first detained in October 2008, after participating in anti-China protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics, and later sentenced to 30 months in jail on allegedly trumped-up tax evasion charges.
Since his scheduled release in October 2010, when his family woke up to a pre-dawn police raid on their home, he had been held largely incommunicado until he was allowed to meet with lawyers in recent months.
Lawyer Son said he met with Nguyen Van Hai last month and that during their session the blogger professed his innocence and said he was in good health.
Nguyen Van Hai and the other two bloggers face a maximum of 20 years in prison, based on the charges under Article 88 of Vietnam’s criminal code.
Phan Thanh Hai, 43, blogged under the pen name Anh Ba Saigon on various issues including territorial disputes with China, environmentally sensitive bauxite-mining projects, a corruption scandal surrounding the state-owned shipbuilder Vinashin, and state harassment of dissidents.
He was arrested in October 2010.
His lawyer has said he will plead innocent.
The third blogger in the case, Ta Phong Tan, 44, a former policewoman and member of Vietnam’s ruling communist party before she became a freelance journalist, blogged about abuses in Vietnam’s legal system.
Authorities detained her in September 2011.
According to her lawyer, she plans to plead guilty to the charges.
Media controls remain restricted in Vietnam, which Human Rights Watch has accused of mounting a sophisticated and sustained attack on online dissent, including by detaining and intimidating anti-government bloggers.
France-based Reporters Without Borders, which lists Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet,” says at least three journalists and 17 bloggers are currently in jail in the one-party state.
Meanwhile, U.S. legislators have urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to secure the immediate release of a Vietnamese-American activist who was detained by authorities in Hanoi last month for allegedly planning to disrupt the anniversary of the fall of Saigon.
Nguyen Quoc Quan, 58, also known as Richard Nguyen, was arrested April 17 as he deplaned in Tan Son Nhat airport while “trying to enter Vietnam to instigate a demonstration and undermine celebrations,” the official Vietnam News Agency had said.
Quan, a member of the opposition group Viet Tan, known as the Vietnam Reform Party, which is outlawed in Vietnam, was labeled a “terrorist.”
In a letter to Clinton, six members of the U.S. House of Representatives urged the State Department “to secure the immediate release of Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan so he can be reunited with his wife and two sons.”
“The detention of Dr. Quan is the latest case of ‘rule by law’ in which the Vietnamese government is abusing vague national security provisions as the pretext to arrest and detain individuals who peacefully advocate for religious and political freedom.”
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.