May 6, 2014
Vietnam has arrested two democracy activists for posting articles critical of the government on the Internet, signaling a continued crackdown on dissent despite the early release of three dissidents last month.
Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy are accused of violating Article 258, which carries a maximum seven-year jail sentence.
Vinh is the founder of the widely read Basam blog, which publishes highlights of local press as well as dissident tracts critical of the government. The blog is also referred to as Ba Sam.
Basam has been a rallying point for Vietnamese demonstrators staging anti-China protests, mostly in Hanoi, in a longstanding dispute over sovereignty of the potentially oil-rich Paracel and Spratly island groups.
Basam and its U.S-based managing editor Ngoc Thu have been repeatedly targeted by hackers with suspected links to the Vietnam state over the last 18 months. She said the arrests were “groundless” and insisted that the struggle for basic democratic freedoms in the country would continue.
“Dissident bloggers can be arrested, blogs can be shut down, but they are like wild grass with deep roots that can’t be dug up,” she wrote in a posting on the blog on Tuesday. “The government cannot control information on the Internet, because no one can control the thoughts of other people.”
Vietnam’s authoritarian government is under international pressure to respect basic human rights such as free speech and political assembly, but still maintains a tight grip on its citizens. The emergence of the Internet over the past five years has opened up new avenues for political dissent and organization, spooking the country’s rulers.
Verdicts against dissidents have been arrested handed down, and harassment and sometime violent attacks on dissidents have increased over the past year, according to activists and diplomats monitoring the situation.
Last month, the government granted early release to three dissidents, one of which flew directly from prison to the United States, which brokered a deal to secure his release. The unusual move was seen by some as a ploy to help ease ongoing trade negotiations between Hanoi and Washington, which has said that progress on the deal — the Trans Pacific Partnership — would be hard without human rights improvements.
New York-based Human Rights Watch says that the number of people sentenced in political trials in Vietnam has increased every year since 2010, and that at least 63 people were imprisoned for peaceful political expression last year.