Anti-blogger crackdown continues

Phan Kim Khanh (r) and Bui Hieu Vo are the latest bloggers to be arrested.

The Ministry of Public Security has announced the arrest of two more bloggers on suspicion of spreading anti-state propaganda.

The charge, under article 88 of the penal code, has been used with increasing frequency by the authorities in what looks like a concerted effort to silence government critics.

An official statement said Bui Hieu Vo, 54, from Ho Chi Minh City, had used his Facebook account to spread “fake, distorted and defamatory information.”

The other blogger, Phan Kim Khanh, in his early twenties and from Phu Tho province near Hanoi, was accused of managing several blogs that carried “fabricated and distorted content” against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

He was alleged to have linked up with other activists inside and outside the country, including Nguyen Van Hai, the blogger known as Dieu Cay, who accepted exile in the United States after serving part of a prison term.

One of Khanh’s blogs is reported to have focused on allegations of official corruption, a highly sensitive issue for government leaders in a country consistently rated as one of the worst in Asia in international graft surveys.

Campaign picking up pace

The ministry alleged that both bloggers were affiliated in some way with the overseas based Vietnam Reform Party, Viet Tan, which the government denounces as a terrorist group.

Viet Tan says it promotes only peaceful change in Vietnam. There is no confirmation the organisation had any links to the bloggers.

The ministry’s statement also contained unsubstantiated charges that Vo had incited the use of makeshift bombs to attack leaders of the party, state and police.

No such attacks have been reported.

The government’s drive to silence independent bloggers has been picking up pace since last year, when one of the country’s best known human rights campaigners, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known as Me Nam or Mother Mushroom, was arrested. She is still being held in isolation awaiting trial.

She had shrugged off government threats and warnings for years. Her arrest was seen as a sign that government leaders were feeling less constrained by foreign pressure to improve their rights record.

Many of the activists detained in recent months have been involved in the environmental protest movement that has been gathering support since the devastating chemical spill off the central coast last April.

The Communist party appears concerned that its legitimacy is being challenged by activists who have gained a wider audience through the energetic use of social media.

Both Vo and Khanh can expect to suffer long periods of imprisonment, without access to family or lawyers, before being brought to trial.

Bloggers on similar charges have eventually faced peremptory court hearings, after prolonged detention, and been sentenced to a number of years in prison.