Jailed Vietnamese blogger tells family he’s in danger before call is cut off

Phan Kim Khanh had joined a US-sponsored youth leadership training program for Southeast Asia.
Jailed Vietnamese blogger tells family he’s in danger before call is cut off Vietnamese blogger Phan Kim Khanh is shown in an undated photo.

A jailed Vietnamese blogger serving a six-year prison term for “anti-state” writings warned his family in a weekend phone call before authorities abruptly cut it off that if they didn’t hear from him again within 15 days, “something bad will have happened.”

Phan Kim Khanh, who had joined a U.S.-sponsored youth leadership training program and criticized government policies online, was sentenced in October 2017 for “spreading propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s 1999 Penal Code, a controversial law used to target dissidents.

He is serving his term at the Nam Ha Detention Center in northern Vietnam’s Ha Nam province.

The Oct. 30 call to his family has left family members worried for his safety, Khanh’s younger sister Phan Thi Trang told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on Monday.

“My brother called home on Saturday, and he asked about every family member’s life and the state of their health,” Trang said.

“And then he told my mother that if he did not call again within the next 15 days, something bad will have happened to him. And when my mother asked him what the problem was, the call was cut off right away.”

“They wouldn’t allow my brother and mother to speak any more,” she said.

Khanh’s family had not heard anything unusual or worrying about her brother’s condition before he made his call, Trang said, adding that attempts by family members to reach prison authorities for more information were unsuccessful, as they had been able only to receive calls in the past and not make calls of their own.

Visits to the prison are also hard to arrange owing to travel restrictions aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19, Trang added.

“Our family feels very worried and uneasy, and we are counting the days to November 15 to see whether my brother is okay or not. Now we don’t know what to do,” she said.

Calls by RFA seeking comment from the Nam Ha detention center rang unanswered.

Before his arrest in March 2017, Khanh had founded and managed several independent online newspapers focusing on politically sensitive issues in Vietnam, including Tham Nhung (Corruption Newspaper) and Tuan Vietn Nam (Vietnam Week).

He was also a member of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), a U.S.-sponsored program launched in December 2013 to train Southeast Asian youth in leadership skills and to strengthen ties between the United States and the region.

In February 2020, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) called Khanh’s jailing by Hanoi a violation of international law, asserting that he had been arrested only for exercising his right to peacefully express his opinions.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. Arrests continue in 2021.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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