by Minh Dao
Vietnamese police have arrested two activists for posting online material that is critical of the country's communist government.
In a statement, the Ministry of Public Security said Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy were arrested Monday in the capital, Hanoi. They are accused of "abusing democratic freedoms" by posting content that "reduces prestige and trust in state agencies."
They face up to seven years in prison if found guilty.
Blogger Me Nam, known online as Mother Mushroom, told VOA's Vietnamese service that the arrests are an attack on freedom of expression.
“Basam blog is one of the blogs reporting on hot and rather accurate news on the protests against China’s invasion attempts," she said. "These arrests probably are part of an attempt to try and divide attention over reaction to the news. It also shows that bloggers currently overseas to attend the [U.S.] congressional hearing on press freedom, and the coming hearing on the 12th of May, need to redouble efforts to put stronger pressure on Vietnam.”
Nguyen Tuong Thuy, one of those in Washington for the Congressional hearing, said the arrests will not deter activists such as himself from speaking out, even if they risk arrest upon returning home.
“We are not worried. We have to accept whatever going to happen. Each member in our group has decided to uphold our standpoint," he said. "No one is afraid or concerned, although we all realize that because of our trip to the U.S., we could face harassment or worse.”
Vinh, an ex-policeman, is the well-known founder of the Basam blog, which deals with Vietnamese politics, corruption and foreign policy.
The website often includes articles questioning government policies and has been targeted repeatedly by hackers.
Lucie Morillon of Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrests and called on western nations to put pressure on the government in Hanoi.
“It is very important that the U.S. and European governments and others put the question of human rights and freedom of expression on top of their agenda, and that they mention the case of those journalists, bloggers, netizens who were in jail for keeping their people informed," she said. "They should do everything they can to push for their release.
This is the latest crackdown on free speech and dissent in Vietnam, where all newspapers and television channels are state-run.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.