Reporters Without Borders is appalled by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's directive calling on the authorities to impose "serious punishments" on those responsible for three popular anti-corruption blogs that he described as "slanderous."
The organization also deplores the arrest of the wife of the jailed journalist and blogger Dieu Cay, the sister of the jailed blogger Ta Phong Tan, and the Catholic priest and netcitizen Anton Le Ngoc Thanh by plain-clothes police during a protest yesterday in the southern city of Bac Lieu. Accused of causing a traffic accident, they were held for several hours.
"We condemn the increase in repression in Vietnam, which we thought had already reached its peak, and the harassment of the families of dissidents,” Reporters Without Borders said. "In particular, we deplore the two-fold method of coercion consisting of reprisals against dissidents themselves together with surreptitious harassment and violent intimidation of their relatives and supporters."
The three people arrested yesterday in Bac Lieu were treated violently by the police before being released. Ta Phong Tan's sister, in particular, was slapped and punched several times and her face was swollen and bruised when they emerged from the police station.
A support committee that had been protesting against their illegal arrest greeted them outside. The protesters also marked the 49th day since the death of Ta Phong Tan's mother, who set fire to herself in despair at the way the judicial proceedings against her daughter were going.
War on blogs
The three dissident news blogs named in the prime minister's 12 December directive – Dan Lam Bao (“Citizen Journalists”), Quan Lam Bao (“Senior Officials Working as Journalists”) and Bien Dong – have revealed several political and financial scandals involving the Communist Party's various factions.
Citing article 88 (a) of the criminal code, the prime minister accused the blogs of anti-government propaganda, "fabricating and distorting information and agitating against the Communist Party and state."
The day before he issued the directive, the authorities banned civil servants from reading the blogs. Although reading them is not illegal, the government's firewalls block access.
The three detained bloggers who were the subject of yesterday's incidents in Bac Lieu – Phan Thanh Hai (also known as Anhbasaigon), Nguyen Van Hai (also known as Dieu Cay) and Ta Phong Tan – founded the Free Journalists Club in September 2007.
They are still facing the possibility of up to 20 years in prison for anti-government propaganda under article 88 and, after several postponements, their trial is now scheduled for 24 September.
Two other bloggers were given jail terms last month on the same charge – Dinh Dang Dinh, who was sentenced to six years on 8 August, and Le Thanh Tung, a member of Bloc 8406, who was sentenced to five years on 11 August.
Reporters Without Borders had already condemned the growing crackdown and the continuing convictions of journalists and, above all, bloggers. At least five journalists and 19 netizens are currently held for expressing their opinions freely, which makes Vietnam the world's biggest prison for bloggers and cyber-dissidents, after China and Iran.
Vietnam is ranked 172nd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and is one of the 12 countries that Reporters Without Borders has identified as "Enemies of the Internet" because of their systematic use of cyber-censorship.