Hai, a lawyer and political blogger who wrote under the penname Anh Ba Saigon, was first taken into custody on a provisional four-month detention while authorities investigated charges that he had disseminated anti-state information, a criminal offense under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code.
On September 24, 2012, Hai was sentenced to four years in prison and three years of house arrest on anti-state charges of “conducting propaganda” against the state for his blogging activities. Hai was one of three founding members of the independent Free Journalists Club website, which was singled out in the court’s ruling for posting anti-state materials. Co-founders Ta Phong Tan and Nguyen Van Hai were tried and convicted at the same time.
Hai’s personal blog often touched on issues considered sensitive by the Vietnamese authorities, including a scandal at the state-run shipbuilder Vinashin, maritime and territorial disputes with China, and a controversial Chinese-supported bauxite mining project in the country’s Central Highlands.
In the days before his arrest, Hai published on his blog a critical legal analysis of Article 88, arguing that the provision violated the right to freedom of expression protected broadly in Vietnam’s constitution under Article 69, according to the Observatory of Human Rights Defenders. He was being held at Ho Chi Minh City’s Security Police Investigations Department in late 2012.