One of Vietnam’s highest profile political trials in years has been scheduled for the day before the Communist Party begins its much anticipated 12th National Congress.
Nguyen Huu Vinh, who founded the Anh Ba Sam website, and his colleague, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, are charged with “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under article 258 of the penal code.
Fellow bloggers are questioning why such a major case, which they see as a blatant assault on free expression, is being held at a time of such acute political sensitivity.
The defendants have been held without trial since their arrest in May 2014.
Intolerance of dissent
The run up to the congress has been marked by an increase in violent attacks on human rights activists, and the
recent arrest of two prominent pro-democracy campaigners.
Analysts suspect that conservatives are attempting to display their intolerance of dissent as they seek support in a factional battle for top leadership positions, which will be formalised after the congress.
The ambitious public security minister, Tran Dai Quang, has already publicly boasted to colleagues about his success in suppressing critics of the Communist Party over the last three years.
Vinh, a former police officer and party member, appears to have infuriated the leadership with his trenchant criticism of corruption and abuses of power.
“Assault on freedom of expression”
The blog he founded has continued to expose the highly secretive inner-workings of the party – a subject that is strictly taboo for the state controlled media.
Vinh is accused of publishing articles on the internet that were abusive and used false information to discredit party leaders and encourage people to lose faith in state organisations.
His prosecution is seen by civil rights campaigners as a grave assault on freedom of expression, at a time when the internet and the widespread use of social media have challenged the party’s long held monopoly on news and political comment.
Mr Vinh’s lawyer says the case amounts to a violation of due process that goes beyond the suppression of free expression.
Tran Quoc Thuan said the detention of Vinh was a direct violation of the right to liberty, as the police had not been able to provide any credible evidence against the blogger.