Prominent blogger ‘Mother Mushroom’ detained in Vietnam

Bangkok, October 11, 2016–Vietnamese authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against prominent independent blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Quynh, popularly known by her pen name Me Nam (Mother Mushroom), was arrested yesterday while trying to visit an imprisoned political activist in the central coastal town of Nha Trang, news reports said.

According to local reports, police forced Quynh and the activist’s mother into a car at the Song Lo prison facility, then drove to the blogger’s home, which is in the same town. Quynh was handcuffed and police searched her home and confiscated her computer and other electronic equipment, the reports said. Local reports said that at least 10 government vehicles and 50 police officials blocked the road leading to her house during the search.

Quynh, who posts to her own blog and exile-run platforms including Dan Lam Bao, was taken to Song Lo prison and charged under Article 88 of the penal code, a provision that carries maximum prison penalties of 20 years in jail for the vague crime of “propagandizing” against the state, according to the BBC. Quynh’s mother, Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, told the independent local language blog Dan Lam Bao that police threatened to imprison Quynh for a “couple of years” while raiding her house.

“Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, one of Vietnam’s most prominent and outspoken bloggers, should be released without condition or delay,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “We urge Vietnamese authorities to stop harassing independent bloggers, who represent the only alternative voice to the country’s otherwise state-controlled media, and allow all journalists to report without fear of reprisal such as trumped up anti-state charges.”

During the raid on her home, police also confiscated placards with slogans calling on the Vietnamese government to file a legal case against the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics steel plant for its role in a toxic spill that caused mass fish deaths in April off the coast of Vietnam’s central Ha Tinh and nearby provinces, reports said. The environmental damage has sparked rare public protests in Vietnam calling for official accountability and corporate responsibility for the disaster.

A statement posted today on the police website of Khanh Hoa province, which includes the city of Nha Trang, said Quynh was being held for posting anti-state news, including a report that compiled 31 cases in which civilians had died in police custody, news reports said. The police statement said the report showed “hostility towards the police force,” the reports said. Quynh was still being held at Song Lo prison today, the reports said.

Quynh, a founding member of the independent group Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, has faced persistent official harassment for her online journalism, CPJ research shows. In September 2009, she was detained for over a week after blogging about government land confiscations in a controversial China-backed bauxite mining project in the country’s pristine Central Highlands region. CPJ profiled her delicate situation in a four-part blog series in 2014 on the risks Vietnam’s independent bloggers take in covering news events.

Quynh’s arrest comes amid an intensifying government clampdown on dissent. Three bloggers–Nguyen Huu Vinh, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, and Nguyen Ngoc Gia–have been sentenced to prison on anti-state charges this year for their journalistic activities.