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Vietnam arrests prominent dissident writer

Pham Thanh, who wrote a book critical of the president, is accused of spreading anti-state material

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Updated: May 23, 2020 04:12 AM GMT
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Vietnam arrests prominent dissident writer

Pham Thanh last year published a book critical of Vietnam's President Nguyen Phu Trong. (Photo courtesy of Nguyen Vu Binh)

A political dissident who is strongly critical of Vietnam’s communist government has been detained in a move described by activists as a severe violation of human freedoms.

About 40 police and security officers arrested writer Pham Thanh while he was watering bonsai trees in his house in Hanoi on May 21.

Lawyer Le Quoc Quan said Thanh, 68, was handcuffed and taken away after police searched his house for two hours. They took away his computers, printer and some books. Police did not allow his relatives to video or take pictures of the scene.

He said the dissident was arrested for producing, restoring and spreading anti-state information and material.

The Catholic lawyer said Thanh, who used to work for the Voice of Vietnam radio station, told police that “I have prepared for this day for a long time. You should do your duties.”

His wife Nguyen Thi Nghiem said she did not know what he did but “I can affirm that he is a good husband and a patriotic citizen who is deeply concerned about national issues.”

Quan said Thanh, a Hanoi resident, is well known for his books and articles highly critical of the authoritarian government’s wrongdoings and social and political injustice. He publicly struggles for freedom, human rights and democratic values.

The lawyer said the case is believed to mainly revolve around Thanh’s 2019 book about Communist Party chief and President Nguyen Phu Trong titled “Heaven-sent to administer justice or hell-sent to destroy morality?”

Thanh used to work with the independent Liberal Publishing House to publish books considered politically sensitive.

The publisher said detaining Thanh, an independent writer and blogger, is clearly trampling on the people’s rights to freedom of speech and expression. It also accused the government of showing intolerance toward independent writers and advocates for freedom of information.

Liberal Publishing House said the people’s need for freedoms is never destroyed by the government and generations of writers always raise the voice of freedom, justice, peace and democracy.

The only unregistered publisher in Vietnam strongly condemned the arrest as the government “tramples on human rights, suppresses dissident views and destroys thoughts of freedom.”

“Thanh is innocent. No one is found guilty of crime only because they speak or write what they think,” it said.

Last month police in Nghe An province arrested Tran Duc Thach, a 68-year-old former soldier, for “conducting activities to overthrow the people’s government.” Thach was accused of posting and sharing writings that distorted the state’s policies to incite public disorder.

Activists said the government is increasing its crackdown on dissidents to prepare for the national congress of the Communist Party early next year.

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