Vietnamese police on Tuesday arrested a prominent political activist and blogger on a charge of spreading anti-state “propaganda,” as authorities continue to crack down on dissenting voices in the one-party communist country.
Nguyen Lan Thang, a contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service since 2013, was taken into custody at around 8 a.m. while on his way to a coffee shop in Thinh Quang ward in the capital Hanoi, family sources said.
He now faces a charge of “making, storing, spreading or propagating anti-State information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
Speaking to RFA, fellow activist Thai Van Duong called Nguyen Lan Thang a “fighter in the pro-democracy movement,” saying the two had participated together in anti-China protests in Hanoi.
Thang was an activist not only in his social media postings but also in his daily life, Duong said.
“Both I and my friends and the international media know that Thang has an excellent character, unlike the descriptions given of him by opponents of the pro-democracy movement.
“Only those who have interacted with Nguyen Lan Thang can understand his personality and the way he performs his activities,” Duong said.
Phil Robertson — deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch — told RFA by email that Nguyen Lan Thang had “peacefully campaigned for democratic reform and justice, so he should be respected and listened to rather than face this kind of unjustified repression.
“Vietnam’s excessive and unacceptable crackdown on freedom of expression has just snared another victim who will invariably face a kangaroo court trial and years in prison for speaking his mind,” Robertson said.
“Governments around the world should demand Nguyen Lan Thang’s immediate and unconditional release, and pressure Hanoi to stop this wave of abuse.”
Thang, who comes from a family of scholars in Hanoi, has a Facebook following of more than 152,000. He has taken part in protests defending Vietnam’s sovereignty in disputed areas of the South China Sea and worked to help people affected by floods and storms in the country’s Central Highlands.
In 2013, he was detained and interrogated at Noi Bai Airport in Hanoi after returning from Thailand and the Philippines, where he had met with U.N. human rights officials to report on human rights abuses in Vietnam. A year later he was barred from leaving the country to attend a World Press Freedom Day event organized by UNICEF in the United States.
According to RFA reports, Vietnam has arrested at least 18 dissidents since the beginning of the year, most of them charged with “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88 of the 1999 Penal Code and Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code.
Both laws have been criticized by activists and rights groups as measures used to stifle voices of dissent in Vietnam.
Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Richard Finney.