Tho, also known by his blog name Nguoi Lot Gach, (Brick Layer,) was arrested at his home in southern Ho Chi Minh City, according to news reports. Police authorities confiscated his laptop computer, cell phone, and at least one USB drive at the time of his arrest, reports said.
In a statement on its website, the Ministry of Public Security said Tho, 65, was detained 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. Tho’s blog-one of the few Vietnamese blogs that appears in French, English, and Vietnamese-was inaccessible after his arrest, according to reports.
The last item posted to Tho’s blog critiqued a speech made by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in which the national leader described Vietnam’s strategy towards China as “both cooperating and disputing,” according to Vietnam Right Now, an exile-run independent rights group. The two countries are locked in a politically sensitive territorial dispute over islands and features in the South China Sea. The blog post, written by Ha Dinh Nguyen, an outside contributor to the blog who has not been arrested, compared Dung’s policy approach to a famous figure in Vietnamese literature who becomes a prostitute, according to Vietnam Right Now.
The Ministry of Public Security 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. It was not immediately clear where Tho was being detained.