WASHINGTON - A Vietnamese blogger detained in May on accusations of producing anti-state propaganda has been transferred from prison to a psychiatric hospital in Hanoi.
Pham Chi Thanh, commonly known as Pham Thanh, covered politics and social issues on his blog Ba Dam Xoe and used to work for the state-owned Voice of Vietnam radio station.
The blogger was being held in pre-trial detention under Article 117 of the Criminal Code, for allegedly producing and keeping documents “of propaganda against the State.” His arrest came a few months after he published a book that is critical of Communist Party General Secretary and President Nguyen Phu Trong.
Wife confirms move
Authorities moved Pham Thanh to a psychiatric clinic in late November, the journalist’s wife Nguyen Thi Nghiem told VOA Vietnamese.
“I am so worried and don’t know what to do,” Nghiem said, “I’ve been living with him for years, I know that his mental health is normal. He doesn't have a problem."
Nghiem said a police official said her husband was transferred to the hospital “to assess and examine his mental health” but did not provide the reason for the move.
Neither the Hanoi Police Department nor the Central Institute of Forensic Psychiatry, where Pham Thanh was taken, responded to VOA Vietnamese’s email requesting comment.
Nghiem said she was told that her husband would be held in custody for four months while he was awaiting trial, “But then the authorities extended that period by another three months.”
Spoken twice to husband
Nghiem was allowed to speak to the journalist by phone and see him through a glass wall twice while he was in detention, but she said at the hospital she was allowed only to send food and money.
Pham Thanh, 68, has written numerous books and online posts that are critical of the Vietnamese leadership and Communist Party of Vietnam.
In a book released in print and online last year, Pham Thanh focused on President Nguyen Phu Trong, whom the writer criticized for being close to China.
In an interview with VOA Vietnamese in September 2019, Pham Thanh said the book — “Nguyen Phu Trong: holder of the mandate of heaven or great immoral traitor?” — was “a data collection about Trong's words, behaviors, both his domestic and foreign policies.” He added that he believes Trong “operated under Beijing’s orders.”
Activists say book resulted in arrest
After Pham Thanh’s arrest, activists said on Facebook they believed it was in connection to the book.
Along with criticism of the party, Pham Thanh writes about Beijing aggression in the South China Sea, Vietnam’s weak response to maritime disputes, corruption, environmental pollution, and human rights violations.
Pham Thanh’s wife told VOA the blogger should be freed because he is not guilty. “I am concerned that he was sent to the psychiatry and might be coerced with mental treatments,” Nghiem said.
Thanh is the second blogger to be moved to a psychiatric hospital this year.
Le Anh Hung, a VOA contributor and blogger, was moved to a psychiatric hospital in April. Hung was arrested in July 2018 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State,” under Article 331 of the country’s 2015 Penal Code, and is still awaiting trial.
His mother, Tran Thi Niem, told VOA in July the journalist “was beaten, tied to a bed and forced to receive intravenous injections” after being transferred to the hospital in April.
Tran said she is worried “the forced treatment and medication would damage his health.”
Hanoi-based activist Nguyen Vu Binh, who knows Hung, told VOA Vietnamese on December 8 the journalist is still at the hospital. Hung was allowed to call home last month, and said he was no longer being forced to take medication, Binh said.
Dissent is not tolerated in Vietnam, and authorities routinely use vague provisions in the penal code to detain writers, bloggers, and activists who call for greater freedoms.
Move to hospital a concern
Amnesty International says the current number of prisoners of conscience detained in Vietnam is the highest the organization has ever recorded. The latest statistics of Defend the Defenders, an organization that protects rights activists in Vietnam, shows that Hanoi is holding nearly 260 prisoners of conscience.
Defend the Defenders said late last month it is concerned about how Vietnam places local activists in hospital facilities, where they are beaten and forced to take unknown medicines.
Vietnam’s communist government has denied the country detains prisoners of conscience, saying it imprisons only those who violate laws.
This story originated in VOA’s Vietnamese service.