Vietnamese blogger detained on anti-state charges

Bangkok, December 2, 2014–An independent blogger was detained in Vietnam on Saturday on anti-state charges for online postings deemed critical of the government, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest and calls on Vietnam’s government to cease its campaign of persecution against journalists and bloggers.

Police arrested Hong Le Tho, also known by his blog name Nguoi Lot Gach, or “Brick Layer,” at his home in southern Ho Chi Minh City, according to news reports. In a statement on its website, the Ministry of Public Security said Tho had been arrested for “online articles with bad content and false information that discredit and create distrust among people about state agencies, social agencies and citizens,” the reports said.

Agence France-Presse reported that the blog was regularly updated in three languages and focused mainly on social and political issues in Vietnam, including critical commentary on sensitive bilateral relations with neighboring China. The two countries are locked in a territorial dispute over control of islands and features in the South China Sea. Tho’s blog was inaccessible after his arrest, according to reports.

The statement said Tho was being investigated under the penal code’s Article 258, a vague and broad anti-state law that criminalizes “abusing democratic freedoms.” Convictions under Article 258 allow for a maximum of seven years in prison. Vietnam’s Communist Party-dominated government has increasingly used the law to stifle online criticism of its authoritarian rule.

“We condemn the arrest of blogger Hong Le Tho on the bogus anti-state charge of ‘abusing democratic freedoms,'” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “We call on authorities to scrap Article 258 and unconditionally release all jailed journalists in Vietnam.”

CPJ research shows that Vietnamese authorities have increasingly used Article 258 to harass and persecute independent bloggers. In 2013, three prominent bloggers–Truong Duy Nhat, Pham Viet Dao and Dinh Nhat Uy–were arrested and later convicted under the law’s harsh provisions. Bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy were arrested in May under Article 258 and are being held in detention while police investigate the charges.