Police in Vietnam’s northern Ninh Binh province this week arrested a 61-year-old man who used Facebook to post articles on human rights and corruption and who had recently declared his intention to run in the National Assembly.
Tran Quoc Khanh was detained March 9 on accusations of using Facebook Live to “distort information against the State, causing public confusion.” The Provincial Public Security website said he will be held in pretrial detention for four months. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in prison.
Khanh, who has more than 4,700 friends following his account, used the social media site to post about human rights abuses, allegations of corruption by state officials, and Vietnam’s territorial dispute with China over the South China Sea — a region containing a key shipping route, fishing grounds and natural resources.
'Act of repression'
The arrest is the latest “act of repression” against dissidents and social activists since Vietnam’s Party Congress, Vu Quoc Ngu, director of the local human rights group Defend the Defenders, told VOA’s Vietnamese service. “This trend of arrests is likely to continue in the near term,” he added.
International rights groups had reported a rise in arrests of dissidents and critics in the months leading up to the Congress, which takes place every five years and where the highest members of leadership are selected.
General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Minister of Public Security To Lam were all reelected to their positions at the gathering in late January.
Elections also are scheduled to take place in May for Vietnam’s National Assembly, which handles domestic and foreign policies.
Khanh announced his intention to run as an independent candidate in National Assembly elections, and during a March 6 livestream he discussed what he saw as flaws in the current ministries, calling on them to respect the rule of law.
VOA could not determine if Khanh had submitted a formal application to run for election with the local authority where he is registered as a permanent resident.
Khanh also used Facebook to discuss a socio-political organization that he wanted to set up to promote and further human rights. His application in 2019 to officially form the group, which he called the Vietnam Democratic Association, was denied, he said.
Arrests of journalists, activists on rise
The Ninh Binh Provincial Security and Investigation Agency alleged that between 2018 and 2020, Khanh used Facebook to post and broadcast "information distorting [and] defaming” Vietnam and "opposing the state.”
Vietnam has ramped up its arrests of journalists and activists who use Facebook to post content, often on accusations of disturbing national stability or opposing the state.
In addition, authorities have called on Facebook and other social media platforms to remove articles that it deems illegal.
Millions turn to Facebook
Social media has become a popular method of communicating and sharing news in Vietnam, which has a poor press freedom record. The country ranks 175 out of 180, where 1 is the most free, according to the World Press Freedom Index.
With only state-run outlets licensed in the country, journalists and others use Facebook to discuss and share content more freely. With 65 million users, Vietnam has the seventh largest number of people on Facebook worldwide, according to figures from market data firm Statista.
This story originated in VOA’s Vietnamese service.