Blogger detained amid escalating crackdown in Vietnam

Bangkok, November 4, 2016–Vietnamese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release blogger Ho Van Hai, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police in Ho Chi Minh City’s Thu Duc district arrested Hai, a medical doctor popularly known by his Facebook moniker ‘Ho Hai’, on November 2, according to news reports.

A statement on Ho Chi Minh City’s website said that Hai was accused of “spreading information and documents on the internet that are against the government of the Social Republic of Vietnam,” news reports said. Nguyen Sy Quang, a spokesman for the Ho Chi Minh City police, told reporters that Hai had disseminated “distorted” information that caused the public to lose trust in the government, according to local reports.

Hai’s personal blog and Facebook account were inaccessible on the day of his arrest, reports said.

Quang said police officials had been monitoring Hai’s online activities before his arrest, and that his postings may have violated article 88 of the Penal Code that outlaws the dissemination of “propaganda” against the state. The official did not provide details or the subjects of the online postings in question. Convictions under the law, frequently leveled at dissidents and journalists, carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison.

“The arrest and detention of blogger Ho Van Hai underscores Vietnam’s reputation as one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Hai should be immediately and unconditionally released, along with all the other journalists wrongfully held behind bars for their writing in Vietnam.”

Vietnam Right Now, an independent news site, reported that Hai had recently published articles about an environmental disaster, caused by a steel factory, along the country’s central coast that has sparked a series of protests against the government’s handling of the crisis. Another prominent blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, was detained on October 10 and later charged under article 88 after she reported and campaigned on the same issue.

Hai’s arrest comes amid an intensifying government clampdown on dissent that has targeted independent bloggers in particular. This year, three bloggers–Nguyen Huu Vinh, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, and Nguyen Ngoc Gia–have been sentenced for their writing.