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Academic under house arrest after writing about improving Vietnam’s Communist Party

The former director of the SENA (Southeast and North Asia) Institute of Technology Research and Development has been placed under house arrest and banned from leaving Vietnam amid a probe into allegations of ‘abusing democratic freedoms’ for submitting a series of recommendations on improving the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.

On Wednesday the Ministry of Public Security said the Investigation Security Agency had decided to probe Nguyen Son Lo, 74, under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.

The ministry did not explain why the investigation had been launched, saying the Investigation Security Agency was “focusing on investigating, collecting documents, and consolidating evidence on the criminal acts of the accused and related individuals … according to the provisions of law.”

Lo’s close friend Nguyen Khac Mai, director of the Hanoi-based Minh Triet Cultural Research Center, said his colleague was a highly-decorated war hero who turned to study and offered his insights on the situation of the country and ways to improve people’s lives.

“Recently he founded a think-tank on cultural research and development,” said Mai.

“He told us ‘the issue of culture has become a huge issue these days for the nation’ so he wanted to contribute to this field.”

He said his friend had written a number of books to advise the country’s leaders, offering recommendations on Vietnam’s economy and culture.

“The Central Inspection Commission [of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam] came to SENA to work with him and confirmed they had not forbidden him from expressing his opinions or making recommendations. They just asked him not to spread them widely,” Mai said.

Lo was advised not to send his books to provincial Party secretaries or National Assembly deputies. He was told to send them internally to bodies such as the Central Organizing Commission, the Central Inspection Commission, the Central Commission on Propaganda and Education, the Secretariat and the Politburo of the party’s Central Committee.

According to Mai, Lo agreed to send his comments only to responsible officials but did not understand why he was being investigated.

Last year, Bach Thong district police in Bac Kan province, published an article titled “Suggestions to build the Party or act against the Party.” The article referred to the SENA Institute and claimed it had written an open letter about the 13th National Congress of the Party expressing incorrect and distorted views on Party and State.

Mai said his colleague was not acting against the party.

“He only has a constructive mind. He wants to contribute, correct mistakes, improve, make this Party and government more civilized and cultured, more humane, more popular, and kinder.”

“That’s his aspiration and I think 90 to 100 million people also want the same. No one wants to overthrow the regime, they just want it to be better.”

“Less corruption, more humanity, less immoral behavior, no land grabbing but negotiation and proper compensation. That is his wish like mine and others,” said Mai.

On July 4, the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations issued a decision to suspend the operations of the institute and take steps to abolish it, saying its establishment and operations violated regulations.

According to Mai, SENA is a civil society organization, legally registered with the state and its members are former high-ranking cadres such as Nguyen Manh Can, former deputy head of the Central Organizing Commission of the Communist Party of Vietnam.