Reporters Without Borders called today for the release of all journalists and cyber-dissidents in Vietnam after a leading Vietnamese blogger was arrested on 19 April for taking part in protests against China. The Olympic torch is due to arrive on 29 April in Ho Chi Minh City, in southern Vietnam, after being borne through the streets of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
"When the Olympic torch relay takes place in Ho Chi Minh City, the Vietnamese government should release all prisoners of conscience and implement the Olympic Charter, which defends human dignity," Reporters Without Borders said.
Many pro-freedom initiatives and independent media have emerged since the launch of the Bloc 8406 pro-democracy movement in April 2006. It was declared illegal by the government in October 2006 and since then the security services have constantly hounded its leading members. Several dozen have been arrested, including nine journalists and cyber-dissidents.
Opposition party members Huynh Nguyen Dao, Le Nguyen Sang and Nguyen Bac Truyen have been sentenced to jail terms of three, four and two years respectively on charges of "propaganda hostile to the government" in what they posted online. Lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan have been sentenced to four and three years in prison respectively.
Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, one of the chief editors of the Hue-based underground magazine Tu do Ngôn luan (Free Expression), was arrested in February 2007 and, after a summary trial, was given a long jail sentence for "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."
Less than a month ago, a court in Vinh Thuan (in the southern province of Kien Giang) sentenced independent journalist Truong Minh Duc to five years in prison under article 258 of the Vietnamese criminal code.
Biggest crackdown since 2002
Several Vietnamese have been arrested in the run-up to the torch relay for demonstrating against human rights violations in China and Chinese policy towards the South China sea, where China and Vietnam dispute the sovereignty of the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands.
Overseas Vietnamese websites have reported that the official Chinese torch relay website shows these two archipelagos as being part of the People’s Republic of China.
The blogger arrested on 19 April in the southern city of Dalat was independent journalist Nguyen Hoang Hai, who is better known by his blogging pseudonym of Dieu Cay. He had participated in protests against Chinese policy in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this year and was being closely watched by police, who had threatened to let Chinese agents kill him.
According to a Vietnamese government website, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called on 20 April for "absolute security" during the Olympic torch relay in Ho Chi Minh City and warned against "hostile forces" that were always ready to disturb the peace.