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Crackdown on bloggers in run-up to Communist Party Congress

Blogger Dieu Cay
Blogger Dieu Cay

RSF

Police in Vietnam have been arresting bloggers in recent weeks in an apparent crackdown on dissent before a crucial Communist Party Congress, report Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). With a total of 17 cyber-dissidents in jail, Vietnam is the world's second biggest prison for cyber-dissidents after China, says RSF.

Gossip columnist Le Nguyen Huong Tra, well known in the Vietnamese blogosphere as Co Gai Do Long, was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on 23 October for allegedly defaming a senior Communist Party official and his family. She claimed in a recent blog entry that the official had granted favours to a beauty queen and other performers because they were his son's lovers. If convicted, Tra could face up to seven years in prison.

Blogger Phan Thanh Hai, known as Anh Ba Saigon, was also arrested last month after police raided his Ho Chi Minh City home, and is facing a possible four-month jail sentence on a charge of "propaganda against the state," says RSF. On his blog he had called for Vietnam to confront China on territorial disputes and a controversial bauxite mining project. He has also expressed his support for other Vietnamese dissidents.

Meanwhile, police continue to detain blogger and activist Nguyen Hoang Hai, better known as Dieu Cay, even though he had served out his 30-month sentence on "trumped up" charges, says Human Rights Watch. Dieu Cay, chair of Free Journalist Network in Vietnam (FJNV), was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to two and a half years in jail after encouraging people to boycott the 2008 Olympic torch relay. He had been under close police surveillance since protesting against China's claim to the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands.

RSF says there has also been an increase of censorship of websites critical of the government, and bloggers have been instructed to only write about personal matters.

According to "The Washington Post", analysts are split about whether the recent arrests reflect an internal struggle in the Vietnamese Communist Party between those who want to move closer to the United States or keep old allegiances with its aggressive partner China.

"So as important meetings with U.S. officials approach, Vietnamese security services often crack down on dissent, wrong-footing generally pro-American politicians," said the "Post". U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Vietnam in late October for a regional summit. According to AFP, Clinton said the U.S. is concerned about the arrest and conviction of people for peaceful dissent, attacks on religious groups, and curbs on Internet freedom.

Other analysts say the arrests are part of a year-long crackdown on dissent as Vietnam's Communist Party prepares for its first Party Congress in five years in January.

"The Vietnam government is shameless in constructing charges and rationales to keep peaceful critics like Dieu Cay behind bars," said Human Rights Watch. "The pre-Party Congress crackdown is swinging into full gear and government critics are being targeted."

At the Congress, party leaders will be selected in a secretive process and will chart the country's course for the next five years.

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