Concerns rise about jailed Vietnamese blogger

Bangkok, July 27, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the health of Nguyen Van Hai, a Vietnamese blogger held in government detention since April 2008, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release on humanitarian grounds.

On July 5, a prison guard where Hai is believed to be held in southern Vietnam told his wife, Doung Thi Tan, that he had lost one of his arms but did not elaborate on the circumstances of the injury, according to CPJ sources who have been in direct contact with Tan.

Tan and other family members have been consistently denied visitation rights to Hai since October 2010, according to the same sources. In previous visits with family members, the journalist said he was mistreated and tortured by prison authorities and was forced to do hard labor, according to the Free Journalists Network of Vietnam (FJNV) a journalist group Hai was involved in creating that now operates from exile.

His popular blog, Dieu Cay (Peasant’s Pipe), had posted on matters considered sensitive to Vietnam’s Communist Party-run government, including reports on protests held against China and a call to boycott the Beijing Olympic torch relay when it passed through the journalist’s native Ho Chi Minh City in 2008.

“We are deeply disturbed by reports that Nguyen Van Hai may have been seriously injured while in detention,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Hai never should have been jailed for his writings in the first place. In light of the reports that he may have sustained a serious injury, it is imperative that he be allowed immediate access to legal assistance and proper medical attention.”

Hai was first arrested in April 2008 and was sentenced in September that same year to two and a half years in prison on trumped-up tax evasion charges. Authorities continued to hold Hai without explanation when his prison term expired on October 18, 2010.

Authorities have since justified his continued detention on the grounds that they are in the process of investigating whether Hai had spread “propaganda against the state” on his blog. His wife, Tan, has expressed concerns to Vietnamese activist groups, including FJNV, that his sentence may have been extended without prior notice in an official attempt to cover up the circumstances surrounding his injury. 

CPJ research shows that at least four political bloggers–Nguyen Van Hai, Pham Thanh Nghien, Pham Minh Hoang, and Phan Thanh Hai–are currently imprisoned in Vietnam. A new executive decree issued on January 6 that came into play in February gave authorities greater powers to penalize journalists, editors, and bloggers who report on issues deemed sensitive to national security.