A wave of media suppression in Vietnam

New York, October 22, 2010–CPJ is concerned by Vietnamese authorities’ recent crackdown against several bloggers and one print journalist.

On Monday, police arrested Phan Thanh Hai, a blogger who writes under the name Anh Ba Saigon (Saigon Brother Three), after raiding his Ho Chi Minh City home, according to Agence France-Presse. Police seized his desktop and laptop computers, along with documents he had printed from the Internet, his wife, Nguyen Thi Lien, told AFP.

“Police read us an arrest order for his provisional four-month detention,” Lien told AFP. “They said they have evidence of his writing and publication of false information on his blog.” Hai’s blog touched on issues considered sensitive by the authorities, including maritime disputes with China and a controversial bauxite mining project involving Chinese investments.

Authorities also extended the detention of Nguyen Hoang Hai, the journalist behind a popular blog called Dieu Cay (Peasant’s Pipe), who was arrested on April 19, 2008. He was convicted in September 2008 and sentenced to two years in prison on trumped-up tax evasion charges, according to international media reports and CPJ research.

Nguyen Hoang Hai was scheduled for release on October 20. As of Friday, he was still being held without explanation. His blog had reported on protests against China and called for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch relay when it passed through Ho Chi Minh City.

CPJ is also concerned about the August 13 arrest of Pham Minh Hoang, who ran a blog while working as a mathematics professor and serving as a political activist with the exiled Viet Tan party. He was charged under Article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code, which bars activities aimed at overthrowing the government. The charges filed against him included references to 29 posts on his blog, according to the Viet Tan website.

“Vietnam’s crackdown on journalists and bloggers continues unabated, and hopes for media are shrinking in an inverse rate to the growing economy. We call on the government to reverse its course,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

CPJ is also worried about the validity of charges brought against Phan Ha Binh, managing editor of the Tien Phong (Vanguard) local-language newspaper. Phan was arrested on October 14 in Ho Chi Minh City on extortion charges, according to the Associated Press. In the past, the government has used similar charges to silence media that had revealed embarrassing information about well-connected businesses.

Binh stands accused of demanding a bribe in the amount of 220 million dong (US $11,000) from representatives of the Sai Gon Tan Ky Cement Company to stop publishing articles about delays in one of its provincial building projects, the AP reported.

Binh could face 20 years in prison if convicted, according to Deutsche Presse-Agentur, which cited Lt. Gen. Trinh Luong Hy, the head of the investigative agency that arrested Binh.