Bangkok, May 7, 2014--Vietnamese police in Hanoi arrested the founder of a popular blog and his assistant on Monday on accusations of disseminating anti-state articles, according to news reports. In 2007, blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh started the Ba Sam news website and aggregator, which often posted materials critical of the government and its policies, reports said.
Vinh and his assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, are charged with "abusing democratic freedoms," a violation of Article 258 of the penal code, the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement cited in news reports. Thuy's association with the blog was not immediately clear from reports. Other administrators of the blog, including its U.S.-based editor, Ngoc Thu, were not mentioned in the charges. If convicted, Vinh and Thuy face up to seven years in prison.
The official statement said articles were posted to Ba Sam "with bad content and incorrect information that reduces the prestige and trust in state agencies," according to reports. Vietnamese authorities have increasingly used Article 258 to imprison bloggers critical of the Communist Party-dominated government, CPJ research shows.
"The arrest of blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, shows that Vietnamese authorities have no intention of easing their campaign to repress online dissent, despite rising international criticism," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "We call for the unconditional release of all journalists detained in Vietnam."
Vinh, 58, established Ba Sam (Talking Nonsense) in September 2007. The blog often posted links to state-run Vietnamese media with critical commentary added by the blog's administrators, as well as translated versions of foreign news on political, economic, and social issues, according to reports. The site also publishes posts from activists and was considered a rallying point for recent protests in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City against China's perceived encroachment on Vietnamese territories, the reports said.
News reports said it was unclear if Vinh was still running the blog at the time of his arrest. In September 2012, the blogger announced he would end his direct involvement with the blog due to increased pressure by the authorities, reports said. Due to frequent cyber-attacks against Ba Sam, the blog has appeared under different Web addresses, reports said.
"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," Thu wrote in a blog post on Tuesday, according to news reports. "The government cannot control information on the Internet, because no one can control the thoughts of other people."
When CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2013, Vietnam was holding 18 journalists behind bars. Of those in jail in late 2013, most were imprisoned for their work online, CPJ research shows.