In Vietnam, all it takes to be defined as an enemy of the government is to raise human rights issues or speak out about politics. Espousing an alternative to the Communist Party’s social vision is to stand against the state. Those who defend freedom risk losing it.
In an article of 10 March of last year, blogger Paul Le Van Son analyzed the term “propaganda against the state,” which the authorities systematically deploy against critics. He published this courageous piece on his blog, denouncing the use of Article 88 of the penal code against Vietnamese citizens who call for reforms. The families of these critics often have devoted their lives to the Communist Party. He concluded that instead of rejecting the criticism, the government should take it to heart: “On reflection, those whom the autorities accuse of opposing the regime are instead trying their best to contribute to improving conditions and to building a stronger state.”
That piece, among others, led to Van Son’s arrest and imprisonment. He has spent more than one year behind bars, though he has not been sentenced. He is the target of exactly the kind of charges that he denounced in the article, though formally speaking he was not charged under article 88. According to the provisional detention order, the only legal document we have seen because his lawyer has no access to his file, he was charged under Article 79, specifically with “membership in the reactionary organization, ‘Reform Party of Vietnam,’ which aims to overthrow the people’s government.”
In all, 18 netizens are presently imprisoned for having tried to provide information to their fellow citizens, according to Reporters Without Borders. No trial date has been scheduled. Van Son’s article, which represents a point of view common to many local bloggers of pacifist orientation, is blocked by some internet service providers in Vietnam.
A YOUNG CATHOLIC BLOGGER IS SCAPEGOATED
Paulus Le Van Son, 27 years old, covers social and political issues in his country, especially those involving religion and human rights. He participates in the collective blog Baokhongle and contributes to Vietnam Redemptorist News. His accounts of anti-Chinese demonstrations and police violence apparently contributed to his 3 August 2011 arrest in Hanoi, which amounted to a police kidnapping.
The day before, the blogger had attended the trial of another netizen, lawyer Cu Huy Ha Vu. Van Son had covered the first session of the trial the previous April. He was violently arrested on that occasion. In the article below/attached, he writes of his visit to the lawyer’s family and the reprisals against them.
Recently, prison conditions for Van Son have deteriorated. Held since early July of this year in the B14 prison in Hanoi, he was then transfered to the run-down Hoa Lo prison, in the city center, where prisoners face greater hardships than in B14.
DRAGGED THROUGH THE MUD
An article on 13 October 2012 in “Cong An,” an official security service publication in Ho Chi Minh City, describes a so-called plot involving young Catholics from Nghe An and Thanh Hoa provinces, who had been arrested in July 2011. According to the publication, the large-scale plot had been fomented with help from abroad. Numerous fictitious details concerning the group’s members were provided.
One passage focused on Van Son. In translation, it reads:
Le Van Son, a native of Thanh Hoa, is in close contact with a group of opponents of the State such as Le Quoc Quan and a number of religious extremists. In this regard, Son constantly gathers information concerning various complaints involving security forces’ fight against oppositionists, and of various problems that prompt discontent and are considered sensitive. This information-gathering was conducted to aid propaganda efforts against the Vietnamese government. As a member of the group, “Republican entrepreneurs and intellectuals,” led by Le Qyoc Quan, Son participated in training sessions for Catholic information work. On 12-13 July 2011 he traveled to Thailand to participate in a training program entitled “Quang Trung.” Following his arrest, he has displayed rebellious conduct, distorting information in his responses and denying his crimes.
In an article posted on the Thanh Nien Cong Giao website, journalist-blogger Jean-Baptiste Nguyen Hu Vinh republishes the passage above, along with his comments. He notes in particular that the group to which Van Son belonged was not “Republican businessmen and intellectuals,” but “Catholic entrepreneurs and intellectuals,” a group launched by Cardinal Tung, archbishop of Hanoi, to encourage the social advancement of Catholics, that resumed activities within the past two years.