Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests of about 10 opposition activists that reportedly took place in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City today, coinciding with the Ho Chi Minh City leg of the Olympic torch relay. The government unfortunately kept its recent promise to crack down on "hostile forces always ready to disturb the peace."
"The government must release the people who were arrested in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City for peacefully demonstrating for an improvement in the human rights situation in Vietnam and China," Reporters Without Borders said. "The behaviour of the police is evidence of the government’s intransigence towards any form of criticism, and of its desire not to upset its powerful Chinese neighbour despite their territorial disputes."
Two dissidents were arrested in Hanoi while protesting against the Beijing Olympic Games. They were Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a representative of the Bloc 8406 pro-democracy group in Haiphong, and Vu Hung, a teacher. Uniformed police quickly arrested them outside the Dong Xuan market when they unfurled a "Beijing 2008" flag with the Reporters Without Borders graphic of the Olympic rings transformed into handcuffs.
Nguyen Xuan Nghia and Vu Hung arrested in Hanoi
Commenting on their arrest, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said: "We would like to point that these two people are not members of our organisation but we support their peaceful demonstration."
There was a heavy police presence outside both the Dong Xuan market and the Chinese embassy, and onlookers and foreign journalists were forced to leave the area.
At least eight others dissidents, Vi Duc Hoi, Phan Thanh Nghien, Le Thi Kim Thu, Tran Duc Thach, Do Duy Thong, Nguyen Ba Dang, Nguyeng Van Tuc et Monieur Chau, are also known to have been arrested today in Hanoi, while two more, one of them wearing a Reporters Without Borders T-shirt, were arrested in Ho Chi Minh City. A group of a students was also arrested in Ho Chi Minh City a few days before the torch relay.
The outlawed party Viet Tan announced that about 12 of activists were arrested in different parts of the country.
Nguyen Hoang Hai, an independent journalist who is better known by his blogging pseudonym of Dieu Cay, was arrested on 19 April in the southern city of Dalat. He had participated in protests against Chinese policy in Ho Chi Minh City earlier this year.
A territorial dispute between China and Vietnam over the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea has prompted a great deal of criticism that is not limited to opposition groups. But calls for demonstrations in Hanoi posted on the blogs of government opponents appear not to have been heeded.
Prime Minister Nguyn Tan Dung called on 20 April for "absolute security" during the Olympic torch relay in Ho Chi Minh City and said no incident would be tolerated. Describing the relay as "testimony of the special friendship between Vietnam and China," he warned against the "hostile forces" that might be tempted to try to disrupt it.