Police in Vietnam have arrested a second prominent blogger in two weeks as part of its long-running crackdown on online dissent, prompting various speculations over their detention under an ambiguous law.
Nguyen Quang Lap, a 58 year-old award-winning writer and member of Vietnam’s Writers’ Association, was arrested Saturday at his home in Ho Chi Minh City on charges of “anti-state” writings critical of the Communist government’s social and political policies on his blog “Que Choa” (“Dad’s Homeland”).
More than a dozen security officers searched his home, according to reports, and detained him for violating Article 258 of the Penal Code, which pertains to “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
Authorities often have cited this provision of the law to make arbitrary arrests of bloggers, activists and lawyers.
Ho Chi Minh City police are launching further probe into Lap’s “law-violating” activities to deal with them in accordance with the law, a statement by the Ministry of Public Security said, according to a report by Vietnam’s official Thanh Nien newspaper.
Opinions about Lap’s arrest range from speculation that he may have sided with one faction within the Communist Party of Vietnam to the government’s desire to stifle criticism and teach bloggers a lesson.
Blogger Pham Chi Dung suggested that the arrest of Lap, who goes by the name Bo Lap, and the blogger Hong Le Tho, who was held on Nov. 29, had to do with infighting among members of the Communist Party.
“The reason [for their arrest] has some connection with some powerful individuals in the government, and somehow it shows an internal conflict between politicians,” he told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Police arrested 65-year-old Tho in Ho Chi Minh City on for “posting online articles with bad content and false information that discredit and create distrust among people about state agencies, social agencies and citizens,” according to reports.
Dung also said the arrests could be the result of a policy change.
“They [authorities] arrested them perhaps because of some new policy,” he told RFA. “They think they need to do some correction to limit the freedom of expression and social criticism. They are aiming at some people.”
Another blogger, Nguyen Lan Thang, said he believed the arrests were part of a “political game.”
“It has created shock waves among bloggers and dissidents, and at the same time has drawn the attention of the public just before the Central Party’s plenum meeting,” set to take place before the end of the year.
Others said the government’s actions were unlikely to stop criticism of the government.
Blogger Me Nam believes the arrests of the two indicate that the government had failed to achieve its desired effect of silencing the country’s bloggers with previous arrests.
“They are willing to arrest dissidents who express their opinion peacefully.”
But Nguyen Lan Thang indicated that the additional detentions would not deter other bloggers from continuing their activities.
“We would not have been doing this [blogging] if we were afraid,” he said. “Who will they arrest? How will they arrest them? What is their plan? It may sound horrible, but we had anticipated that when we decided to do this.”
Some were more critical of government’s arrest of Lap.
“It is wrong what they just did,” said Nguyen The Hung, who runs the Bauxite Vietnam website. “Peaceful counterargument is just like a mirror that helps us to groom ourselves when we see ourselves in there. In this case, they just broke the mirror.”
Jonathan London, assistant professor in the Department of Asian and International Studies at the City University of Hong Kong, called Lap’s arrest “regretful.”
“It is regretful this happened when everybody was expecting some progress with the human rights situation in Vietnam,” he said. “I hope they [Lap and Tho] will be released soon, so Vietnam can step up onto a new stage, because if it keeps doing this, it be will very difficult for Vietnam to develop strategic relationships.”
International human rights groups and the United States have criticized Vietnam for arresting those who peacefully voice their views and urged the country to improve its human rights record.
Reporters Without Borders says Vietnam is currently holding at least 34 bloggers in detention.
Reported by Kinh Hoa for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.