Vietnam Arrests Woman on Same Anti-State Charges Used to Jail Her Brother

Police find “anti-state materials” in house of Le Thi Binh, two months after her brother finished his jail term.
Vietnam Arrests Woman on Same Anti-State Charges Used to Jail Her Brother Vietnamese police officers stand outside the North Korean embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 26, 2019.

Vietnamese authorities arrested the sister of a former prisoner of conscience Tuesday, detaining her on the same charges that got him a two-year jail sentence for social media posts he wrote that criticized the government, members of the family told RFA.

Police in the southern city of Can Tho detained Le Thi Binh, sister of Le Minh The. RFA reported that he was released in October after his two-year stint, for “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals.”

Le Thi Binh was taken away under Article 331 of the Vietnam 2015 Penal Code, a vaguely worded law often used to lock up bloggers and other peaceful critics of the Vietnamese government -- the same charge her brother was convicted of in March 2019.

Le Minh The had been arrested in October 2018 for his association with the Facebook group Hien Phap (Constitution), which had aimed to educate the public about the human rights they are entitled to under Vietnam’s 2013 constitution.

Many of its members played key roles in mass protests that failed to block passage of two bills on Special Economic Zones and Cyber Security in Ho Chi Minh City in mid-June 2018.

Le Minh The told RFA’s Vietnamese Service his sister was likely also targeted for posts she made to her Facebook page.

“I told her not to share news on Facebook or live stream because that’s why I was arrested. I don’t want my family to go through the same thing,” said Le.

“I told her ‘What you understand, you should share. But what you do not understand, do not share,’ but my sister seemed not to listen to me,” he said.

Le Thi Binh’s son, Nguyen Chi Thanh, told RFA that police stopped his mother while she was running an errand.

“This morning, my mother went out to deliver coffee… a man who was with her called me saying she was arrested,” he said.

“When I came home, there were so many police inside my home, and they were searching the entire house. They asked me to sign the search warrant. I did not know she had been arrested yet, so I signed the warrant,” Nguyen said.

According to Nguyen, Le has been detained temporarily at the Can Tho police office, also known as Long Tuyen detention camp. 

The family told RFA that they have yet to be presented with an arrest warrant for Le Thi Binh, though state media reported Tuesday morning that the People’s Procuracy approved the warrant and procedural orders.

A source cited in a report by local media outlet Zing Online said of the search that police discovered and confiscated anti-state materials.

It was not immediately clear to RFA what exactly Le Thi Binh had written on her Facebook account, which she used under the name “Ngoc Lan Can Tho.” 

Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. About 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply this 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.

According to the rights group Defend the Defenders, Hanoi is currently detaining at least 238 prisoners of conscience.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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