In another entry for the file of social media users sent to jail for their posts, 23-year-old Tran Hoang Phuc was arrested by Vietnamese police this week for “spreading propaganda videos against the government,” as his mother told Reuters.
The blogger was detained without a warrant and held for four days before the government officially announced his arrest, and Phuc could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Phuc is just the latest victim of the repressive Communist government, which has liberalized in some ways over the past few years but has developed no appetite for free expression. Another blogger mentioned by Reuters was just sentenced to 10 years in prison for speaking out against the State.
A June report from Human Rights Watch accused Vietnam of a “pattern of thuggish assaults against rights campaigners across the country,” buttressing the accusation with pictures of battered and bloodied activists. Bloggers who police do not formally arrest, like Phuc, often find themselves assaulted by vigilantes who sometimes use bricks and iron bars in these attacks. The police display little interest in following up on reports of such assaults.
Phuc, a native of Ho Chi Minh City, was detained under Vietnam’s notorious Article 88, which gives the government leeway to charge just about everyone it doesn’t like with distributing “propaganda against the state.”
Radio Free Asia notes that this young blogger has developed considerable stature as an activist, having been invited to participate in a leadership program sponsored by the U.S. government. He was even invited to meet with former U.S. President Barack Obama when Obama visited Vietnam, but the police prevented him from attending the meeting.
Former political prisoner Le Thang Long described Phuc as “a serious young person who is truly patriotic” and “always obeys the laws.”
Only a few weeks ago, Indian media reported that Phuc and another activist were abducted by a van full of masked thugs while waiting for a bus. The kidnappers beat the young men before releasing them.
The blogger who received a ten-year prison sentence for propaganda last week, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh—also known as “Mother Mushroom”—committed the “crime” of calling for government accountability in an environmental disaster that killed about 70 metric tons of fish. She was also critical of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, and the Vietnamese government’s willingness to tolerate it. Ominously, she was also known to complain about the deaths of people in police custody.