Toan was arrested at an Internet café in the capital, Hanoi. He had reported on protests by disgruntled farmers and then transmitted his reports via the Internet to overseas pro-democracy groups. Authorities later charged him with espionage. On December 20, 2002, Toan was sentenced to 12 years in prison, one of the harshest sentences given to a Vietnamese democracy activist in recent years.
Toan served in the North Vietnamese army in the 1970s. After becoming active in Vietnam’s pro-democracy movement, he began to write articles using the pen name Veteran Tran Minh Tam.
During the National Assembly’s December 2001 and January 2002 meeting, large numbers of peasants gathered in front of the meeting hall to demand compensation for land that the government had confiscated during redevelopment efforts. Toan helped the protesters write their grievances to present to government officials. He also wrote several news reports about the demonstrations and sent the articles to overseas pro-democracy publications.
Toan’s trial took less than one day, and his lawyer was not allowed to meet with him alone until the day before proceedings began. The day after Toan was sentenced, the official Vietnamese press carried reports stating that he had “slandered and denigrated executives of the party and the state by sending electronic letters and by providing information to certain exiled Vietnamese reactionaries in France.” He is currently being held in B14 Prison, in Thanh Tri District, outside Hanoi.
In March 2005, Toan was allowed to write to his mother after almost a year of being deprived of the right to communicate with his family, according to his letter, in which he called for the aid of international statesmen and the media in protesting his unjust imprisonment.