In the latest chapter of the never-ending persecution of Nguyen Van Dai, the Public Security Ministry arrested him on 16 December on a charge of “propaganda against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under article 88 of the criminal code – the same charge on which he was sentenced to four years in prison in 2007.
The arrest came one day after the European Union and Vietnam held the latest round in their Dialogue on Human Rights.
“Article 88 of the criminal code has yet again been used to suppress freely and independently reported information in Vietnam,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“In the immediate wake of the EU-Vietnam human rights dialogue, the European Union’s representatives and member countries must adopt sanctions against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s government. If the EU fails to react, it will give Dung a blank cheque to pursue his crackdown on news and information providers.”
Police also briefly arrested two bloggers, Truong Van Dung and Le Thu Ha, on 16 December and took their mobile phones. Like Dai, they are members of Brotherhood for Democracy, a human rights group that promotes free speech and media freedom.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is shocked by the severe beating that citizen-journalist and cyber-activist Nguyen Van Dai received from plainclothes policemen in the northern province of Nghe An on 6 December, shortly after he participated in a discussion about human rights in Vietnam and the 2013 constitution.
Around 60 people had attended the meeting, held at the home of former prisoner of conscience Tran Huu Duc in the Nam Dan district of Nghe An province as part of a “Human Rights in Vietnam Week” that ended today, 10 December, declared Human Rights Day by the UN General Assembly 65 years ago.
“We are appalled by this brutal attack targeting Nguyen Van Dai,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Everyone knows he is persecuted constantly by the authorities because of his commitment to freedom of information and human rights.”
“We call on the international community to press the Vietnamese authorities to stop employing these thuggish methods, which have turned Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s administration into a government of gangsters.”
The attack on Nguyen Van Dai occurred shortly after he left the meeting to return to his Hanoi home in a taxi with fellow human rights activists Ly Quang Son, Vu Van Minh and Le Manh Thang. They were forced to stop by masked men in a van with no licence plates and men on motorcycles, identified by Dai as plainclothes policemen.
They dragged Dai to a vehicle, gave him a severe beating, took his mobile phone, wallet containing about 500 dollars and other personal items, and finally released him about 50 km from where the meeting took place. A few hours later, an attempt was made to arrest him as he tried to return home by bus. In the end, it took him two days to return to his home in Hanoi.
In an interview for Radio Free Asia a few weeks ago, Dai described how the authorities have been harassing him and the people working for Luong Tam TV (Conscience TV), an independent Web TV channel, since its launch last August.
Seven of its employees were arrested on 23 and 24 September. The homes of the dissident Nguyen Vu Binh and the presenter Le Thi Yen were searched. Some of the TV station’s equipment was confiscated. And the police questioned Dai after these arrests.
“In order to change the minds of this country’s leaders, we have to tell the people about the basic rights that they have naturally, so that they are aware of them and know how to exercise them,” Dai told RSF.
“The attacks will not discourage me. I call on international NGOs and democratic governments to do anything they can to stop the violence that the Vietnamese police have increasingly used in recent years against human rights activists and independent news providers.”
Dai was the target of similar attacks in May 2014 that were not investigated. And in June 2013, he reported that his home was bugged. After obtaining a microphone detector, he found the authorities were spying on him from a room next to his apartment. His discovery drew attention to the regime’s growing use of “physical” methods to spy on and censor bloggers.
One of the leaders of Vietnam’s pro-democracy movement, a signatory of the Bloc 8406 appeal and staunch human rights defender, Dai often posts articles advocating democracy on websites based outside Vietnam. In 2007, he was sentenced to four years in prison on a charge of anti-government propaganda.