An RFA blogger held in Vietnam on charges of corruption has been allowed to meet with a lawyer for the first time since he was abducted in Thailand earlier this year and forced back to Vietnam, his attorney told RFA on Thursday.
Truong Duy Nhat, a weekly contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, disappeared in Bangkok in late January amid fears he had been seized by Vietnamese agents, and two months later was revealed to be under arrest in Hanoi.
Speaking on Aug. 29 to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, attorney Ngo Anh Tuan said he had met with Nhat at the T16 camp of the Ministry of Public Security the day before after being told he could speak with his client only in the presence of a police investigator, who would monitor their conversation.
Tuan had earlier applied for permission to see Nhat on Aug. 26, but had turned the meeting down after being told an investigator would have to be present, Tuan said, adding that he was then told to return on Aug. 28.
“Although the investigator’s presence during my visit [on Thursday] was unlawful, I finally had no choice but to allow them to observe, since otherwise I wouldn’t be able to meet with my client,” Tuan said.
“I had to accept this even though they were breaking the law,” he said.
Nhat is in good health and spirits in prison, though his family is not allowed to send him food, Tuan said.
“From the day he entered this prison, he has not been allowed to receive food from his family, though they are allowed to send money,” he said.
“The investigator who supervised our meeting said that Nhat is a ‘special person,’ and they are afraid they cannot guarantee his safety if food comes in from the outside that they cannot check, and that might contain poison,” he said.
“Truong Duy Nhat rejects that explanation,” he said.
Jailed in Vietnam from 2013 to 2015 for his writings criticizing Vietnam’s government, Nhat now faces corruption charges for his alleged involvement in a land-fraud case while serving as bureau chief at a newspaper in Danang city in the 1990s.
In July, police investigators charged Nhat with “abusing his position” after failing to find evidence to convict him on an earlier charge of illegally acquiring property, his wife and a family friend told RFA in an earlier report.
Facebook user sentenced
Meanwhile, a court in Dak Nong province in Vietnam’s central highlands jailed Duong Thi Lanh, a Vietnamese woman, for eight years on Aug. 23 for “spreading information and documents opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
Police investigators had determined that Lanh had set up 21 separate Facebook pages using different names to “misrepresent and distort” policies of the government and ruling Communist Party on issues regarding the country’s sovereignty over areas of the South China Sea, state media said.
Speaking to RFA on Thursday, Thailand-based Amnesty International campaign manager Nguyen Truong Son called Lanh’s sentence “a sign of the tyranny of the regime.”
“This shows that anyone in Vietnam can become a criminal just because of expressing his views peacefully on social media networks,” Son said, adding, “We condemn the provincial government of Dak Nong and call on the Vietnamese government to release Duong Thi Lanh immediately and unconditionally.”
Others also jailed
Other Facebook users have also been arrested or questioned in Vietnam this year for posting politically sensitive content online.
Vietnamese democracy advocate Huyn Dac Tuy was sentenced on Aug. 21 by a court in southern Vietnam’s Quang Ngai province to a six-year prison term, followed by three years’ probation, for criticizing the country’s communist government in a series of online posts, according to state media reports.
On Jan. 30, Duong Thi Lanh, 36, was taken into custody in central Vietnam’s Dak Nong province for writing about human rights issues and democracy in posts on her Facebook account, with 21-year-old university student Tran Ngoc Phuc summoned for questioning by police a month later for posting material deemed harmful to the ruling Communist Party and government.
And on Jan. 23, Facebook user Tran Van Quyen, 20, was arrested in southern Vietnam’s Binh Duong province for allegedly joining Viet Tan—an unsanctioned pro-democracy party with members inside Vietnam and abroad, Quyen’s brother and lawyer told RFA in an earlier report.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of which 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, 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 Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Richard Finney.