An international human rights group on Monday slammed the arrest of a prominent blogger in Vietnam over the weekend, as other dissidents decried a growing crackdown on online freedom of expression by authorities in the one-party communist nation.
Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, known by his pen name Nguyen Ngoc Gia, was arrested Saturday at his home in the commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City, although police have not publicly stated which crimes the 48-year-old allegedly committed.
The arrest prompted New York-based Human Rights Watch to slam Vietnam’s recent increase in arrests of bloggers under what the group has said are ambiguous laws used to crack down on online dissent.
“Vietnam's relentless crackdown on freedom of expression doesn't rest for the New Year holidays as blogger Nguyen Dinh Ngoc found out when police arrived at his door,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFA.
“Brave bloggers like him provide an invaluable service to the people of Vietnam in exposing rights abuses and corruption yet face a gauntlet of intimidation, arrest and imprisonment at the hands of the authorities.”
Robertson called on the international community to pressure Vietnam over the recent string of arrests.
“Enough is enough—donors to Vietnam need to demand bloggers jailed from voicing their opinions should be freed immediately and unconditionally, and Hanoi respect its international rights treaty obligations,” he said.
Ngoc was arrested at his home in the commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday, according to an announcement on the city police website.
It also said police would “launch a further probe into [Ngoc’s] law-violating” activities and “deal with them in accordance with the law.”
Ngoc is a frequent contributor to the blogs Dan Lam Bao (The People’s Journal) and Dan Luan (The People’s Opinion) whose writings are often reposted on a number of websites both inside and outside Vietnam.
He had recently written articles critical of the government in the communist state, where authorities have stepped up the arrest of bloggers under ambiguous laws to stop online dissent.
Two other bloggers
Ngoc had spoken with RFA last week about the recent arrests of two other prominent bloggers, Nguyen Quang Lap and Hong Le Tho, who were detained for violating Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code, which pertains to “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
Authorities often have cited this provision of the law to make arbitrary arrests of bloggers, activists and lawyers.
Blogger Nguyen Lan Thang told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the arrest of the Ngoc, Lap and Tho were “a warning to Vietnamese bloggers,” adding that the move would “have a very strong effect on online writing.”
“But I think the change process in our society comes from weakness in the socio-economy, so there will be more writers and more activists,” he said.
“[Therefore,] such prosecution is meaningless, and it can only make people more active.”
Blogger Ba Dam Xoe, also known as freelance journalist Pham Thanh, said bloggers have come to expect harassment, pressure, intimidation and arrest by authorities.
“The policy of killing any dissenting opinions is what the communists have relied on since the beginning,” he said. “If there happens to be some relaxation, it might be because of something that forces them to do so, not their own intention to do so.”
“That is the way they exist, and that will lead to their death because they can’t silence all dissenting opinions forever. In addition, in Vietnam, anyone who decides to engage in this kind of activity will never give up. I am among them.”
‘Enemy of the Internet’
Human Rights Watch estimates that 150 to 200 activists and bloggers are serving prison time in Vietnam simply for exercising their basic rights.
Paris-based freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which lists Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet,” has ranked the country 174th out of 180 nations in its press freedom index for 2014.
Although Vietnam is a member of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, it has been criticized by international human rights groups for harassing and jailing bloggers and other government critics.
Reported by Mac Lam of RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.