Vietnamese Facebook User Arrested on ‘Anti-State’ Charges After Six Months on the Run

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Phan Cong Hai is shown holding a sign criticizing government handling of the 2016 Formosa toxic waste spill in an undated photo.
Facebook / Nguoi Viet Xau Xi

Authorities in Vietnam’s coastal Ha Tinh province arrested a Facebook user this week for “spreading information against the state” amid a continuing crackdown on freedom of expression online in the one-party communist country, according to Vietnamese sources.

Phan Cong Hai, born in 1996, was taken into custody by provincial police on Nov. 17, Hai’s father Phan Cong Binh told RFA by phone from his home in neighboring Nghe An province.

“I was told that he was arrested in Ha Tinh and was then handed over to provincial police here in Nghe An. This is all that I know,” the older man said, adding that Hai’s family has not received an official notice of the arrest, and doesn’t know where to visit him.

With a warrant for his arrest issued on May 31, Hai had evaded capture for almost six months after drawing police attention for his online postings under Facebook accounts set up under different names, sources said.

Postings published shortly before his arrest including discussions of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Hai had also protested against government handling of a massive spill in 2016 of toxic waste by the Taiwan-owned Formosa firm that destroyed livelihoods across Vietnam’s central coast and led to widespread protests and arrests in affected provinces.

In June, Nghe An’s police newspaper said that Hai had “violated national security many times for a long time, and has especially used social media to spread propaganda against the state and the [ruling Communist] Party,” the paper said.

Meanwhile, a government-friendly web site on Nov. 19 showed Hai admitting to spreading anti-government propaganda in an apparently coerced confession.

A police officer in charge of Hai’s case declined to answer questions when contacted by RFA, and referred further calls to provincial police. Meanwhile, calls to police offices in Ha Tinh and Nghe An on Friday rang unanswered.

Vietnam has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.

Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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