Vietnamese blogger arrested on ‘propaganda’ charge

Nguyen Lan Thang was a long-time contributor of blog posts on politics and society to RFA Vietnamese.
By RFA Vietnamese
2022.07.05
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Vietnamese blogger arrested on ‘propaganda’ charge Vietnamese democracy activist and blogger Nguyen Lan Thang is shown in an undated photo.
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UPDATED at 5:45 p.m. EDT on 2022-07-05

Vietnamese police on Tuesday arrested a prominent political activist and blogger on a charge of spreading anti-state “propaganda” that could land him in jail for as long as 20 years, as authorities continue to crack down on dissenting voices in the one-party communist country.

Nguyen Lan Thang, a contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service since 2013, was taken into custody at around 8 a.m. while on his way to a coffee shop in Thinh Quang ward in the capital Hanoi, family sources said.

He now faces a charge of “making, storing, spreading or propagating anti-State information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Speaking to RFA, fellow activist Thai Van Duong called Nguyen Lan Thang a “fighter in the pro-democracy movement,” saying the two had participated together in anti-China protests in Hanoi.

Thang was an activist not only in his social media postings but also in his daily life, Duong said.

“Both I and my friends and the international media know that Thang has an excellent character, unlike the descriptions given of him by opponents of the pro-democracy movement.

“Only those who have interacted with Nguyen Lan Thang can understand his personality and the way he performs his activities,” Duong said.

Independent journalist and former RFA blogger  Nguyen Tuong Thuy is shown at his trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Jan. 5, 2021. Credit: Reuters
Independent journalist and former RFA blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy is shown at his trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Jan. 5, 2021. Credit: Reuters
'Wave of abuse'

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that Nguyen Lan Thang had “peacefully campaigned for democratic reform and justice, so he should be respected and listened to rather than face this kind of unjustified repression.

“Vietnam’s excessive and unacceptable crackdown on freedom of expression has just snared another victim who will invariably face a kangaroo court trial and years in prison for speaking his mind,” Robertson said.

“Governments around the world should demand Nguyen Lan Thang’s immediate and unconditional release, and pressure Hanoi to stop this wave of abuse.”

Thang, who comes from a family of scholars in Hanoi, has a Facebook following of more than 152,000. He has taken part in protests defending Vietnam’s sovereignty in disputed areas of the South China Sea and worked to help people affected by floods and storms in the country’s Central Highlands.

In his discussions of a wide range of political and social issues and Thang struck a moderate tone, seeking balance and avoiding sharp, direct criticism, frequently ending his blog posts with the phrase "Love all."

In one post he compared the arrest and jailing of activists in Vietnam who raised questions about social issues avoided by most other people to the treatment of the Greek philosopher Socrates.

In his most recent post for RFA on April 7, Thang noted news reports about Russian ships turning off their locator systems to evade being tracked for illegal oil sales. He recalled that during the Iraq War, tycoons from a certain "socialist-oriented market economy" had repainted oil ships to buy sanctioned Iraqi oil at a discount and "became very very rich and acquired a lot of land, factories, and banks."

In 2013, he was detained and interrogated at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi after returning from Thailand and the Philippines, where he had met with U.N. human rights officials to report on human rights abuses in Vietnam. A year later he was barred from leaving the country to attend a World Press Freedom Day event organized by UNICEF in the United States.

Jailed Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, who wrote and made videos for RFA before his arrest in 2017, is shown in an undated photo. Credit: danlambao
Jailed Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hoa, who wrote and made videos for RFA before his arrest in 2017, is shown in an undated photo. Credit: danlambao
Caught in crackdown

Thang is the latest of four Vietnamese bloggers to be caught up in a crackdown on critics of the Communist Party that has seen Facebook posters, journalists and writers receive hefty jail terms for their work.

In May, RFA reported that Nguyen Truong Thuy, who had blogged on civil rights and freedom of speech issues for RFA Vietnamese for six years, was in failing health with limited access to medical treatment.

The 72-year-old former vice president of the Vietnam Independent Journalists Association is serving an 11-year sentence on a charge of “propagandizing against the state" and was suffering from back pain, high blood pressure, scabies and inflammatory bowel disease, Thuy’s wife, Pham Thi Lan, told RFA after visiting him on May 14.

Truong Duy Nhat, who had been a weekly contributor to RFA Vietnamese before his abduction by police in Thailand in January 2019, was convicted in March 2020 of “abusing his position and authority” in a decade-old land fraud case and jailed for 10 years, a charge Nhat has described as politically motivated.

Nhat declared at his trial that after seeking political asylum in Thailand at the beginning of 2019, he was arrested by Thai Royal Police on January 26 and handed over to Vietnamese police, who took him across the border into Laos, and from there back to Vietnam.

Nguyen Van Hoa, who had blogged and produced videos for RFA, was handed a seven-year jail term in November 2017 after using a drone to film protests outside a Taiwan-owned steel plant, whose spill of toxic waste the year before had left fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four coastal provinces.

Amnesty International has said that Hoa was tortured by the authorities to confess to his “crime” and in May 2019 was being held in solitary confinement as punishment for his refusal to cooperate.

Arrested on Jan. 11, 2017 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, Hoa was later charged with “conducting propaganda against the state.”

According to RFA reports, Vietnam has arrested at least 18 dissidents since the beginning of the year, most of them charged with “conducting propaganda against the state" under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code and Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.

Both laws have been criticized by activists and rights groups as measures used to stifle voices of dissent in Vietnam.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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