Blogger still detained in Vietnam; three released

New York, September 8, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Vietnamese authorities to release immediately and unconditionally Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a blogger who writes under the pen name Me Nam, or Mother Mushroom.

Quynh, 31, was arrested on August 28 by a group of 17 police officials who stormed her house at around midnight, according to the Free Journalists Network of Vietnam (FJNV), an independent press freedom group. She has been detained at a police station in the coastal city of Nha Trang, according to FJNV and international news reports.

In recent posts, she had blogged about sensitive topics concerning China-Vietnam relations, including a controversial bauxite mining project led by Chinese investors in the country’s Central Highlands region and territorial disputes with China over sovereignty of the Paracel and Spratley islands. She also posted photos of herself wearing a green t-shirt calling for the cancellation of the bauxite project and declaring Vietnamese sovereignty over the contested islands.

Before her arrest, Quynh had received a police summons requesting her to report to local authorities for questioning on September 3. Security police searched her house and seized her computer, hard drive, and other belongings after her arrest, according to FJNV.  

According to an Agence France-Presse report quoting the blogger’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, Quynh was accused of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state,” a crime punishable by prison under Article 258 of the penal code. Police denied the mother access to Quynh on Monday, according to the same news report.    

“Vietnam is one of the world’s worst jailers of bloggers and recent actions have underscored that reputation,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program director. “Blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh never should have been detained over her online writing and we call in the strongest terms possible for her immediate release.”

Quynh’s arrest comes amid a harsh government crackdown on freedom of expression online. On August 27, blogger Bui Thanh Hieu, also known as Nguoi Buon Gio, which means “Wind Trader” was arrested for his critical entries on territorial disputes between Vietnam and China. He was released on Saturday after being detained for more than a week.

Pham Doan Trang, a reporter for the online news service VietnamNet, was arrested on August 28 over her news coverage of land disputes between China and Vietnam. Trang was released over the weekend; it wasn’t immediately clear whether she was charged with a crime.  

A third Vietnamese blogger who wrote under the pen-name “Sphinx” was detained by authorities on August 29 and released four days later. According to FJNV, he was subjected to sleep deprivation during interrogations over his short and often witty posts that similarly touched on Vietnam-China relations, including the bauxite mining project and territorial disputes. He had also posted pictures of himself wearing a t-shirt saying “Paracel and Spratly Islands belong to Vietnam.” 

Editor’s note: The original text of this alert has been modified in the penultimate paragraph to correct gender references to Pham Doan Trang.