Two years after prison release, Hoa Hao follower arrested again in Vietnam

Nguyen Hoang Nam is accused of Facebook posts that oppose the government and undermine religious unity.
By RFA Vietnamese
Two years after prison release, Hoa Hao follower arrested again in Vietnam Nguyen Hoang Nam, a member of the dissident Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, is seen in this 2017 photo.
Credit: Nguyen Hoang Nam Facebook

A former religious prisoner of conscience in Vietnam has been arrested on an anti-state charge related to his social media activity, just two years after his release from prison following a conviction for “disturbing public order,” local media reported. 

Nguyen Hoang Nam, a member of a dissident Hoa Hao Buddhist Church in An Giang province, is accused of posting documents, images, videos and live broadcasts that oppose authorities and undermine the policy of religious and national unity, according to Vietnamese state media, which cited government investigators.

Nam is charged under Article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code, a vaguely written set of rules that rights groups say is Hanoi’s favorite tool for silencing dissenting bloggers and journalists.

The church’s deputy chief secretary, Nguyen Ngoc Tan, told Radio Free Asia that he was shocked by the arrest.

“I don’t see those videos (against the government), but only videos of Hoang Nam doing social charity work.” he said, referring to Nam’s Facebook account. 

Nam and his family cook free meals for poor people about twice a month, according to church member Vo Van Buu, who added that Nam also sometimes reposts articles on Facebook written by people who criticize the government.

Previous arrest

Nam was arrested in 2017 on the “disturbing public order” charge while traveling to the house of another church member to join in worship services, sources told RFA at the time. Nam was sentenced the following year to a four-year prison term and was released in 2021.

Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao religion, which has some 2 million followers across the country, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting Hoa Hao groups – including the sect in An Giang – that do not follow the state-sanctioned branch.

Rights groups say that An Giang authorities routinely harass followers of the unapproved groups, prohibiting public readings of the Hoa Hao founder’s writings and discouraging worshipers from visiting Hoa Hao pagodas in An Giang and other provinces.

Online newspaper Vietnam Plus reported on Friday that An Giang police coordinated with the Ministry of Public Security’s Department of Cybersecurity and High-Tech Crime Prevention and Control in arresting Nam in Chau Doc city on July 24.

Authorities searched his home and seized seven mobile phones, two USB sticks, a laptop, 307 pages of documents and 10 videos allegedly containing “propaganda against the Party and the state,” Vietnam Plus reported. 

The arrest is another attack by the Vietnamese government on freedom of speech, as well as freedom of religion and belief, according to Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

“By arresting Nguyen Hoang Nam, the government shows how it is doubling down on its campaign to silence outspoken advocates of religious freedom,” he told RFA in an email. “The previous accusations and prosecution of Nguyen Hoang Nam are bogus, and so is this latest arrest.”

Edited by Matt Reed.


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