Nguyen Van Dai detained on propaganda charge

Allowed more freedom than before but Nguyen Van Dai is still closely watched.

Before the assault and his arrest, Nguyen Van Dai had expressed hope of a more tolerant attitude by the authorities

Vietnamese police have detained one of Vietnam’s most prominent human rights campaigners, Nguyen Van Dai, as he prepared to meet European Union representatives who are in Hanoi for a human rights dialogue with the government.

The Ministry of Public Security said he had been arrested for spreading propaganda against the state under article 88 of the penal code.

The former political prisoner is still suffering from injuries sustained in a severe beating by masked men on December 6; an attack thought to have been ordered by the authorities.

The case has immediately drawn parallels with the Chinese government’s prosecution of the civil rights lawyer, Pu Zhiqiang, who’s facing a potentially long prison sentence for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” over a series of tweets.

Both cases have severe implications for freedom of expression in the neighbouring Communist countries.

Mr Dai was intercepted near his home in Hanoi by some twenty officers from the Ministry of Public Security as he attempted to meet the EU delegation.

His home was searched for three hours; his laptops, bank documents and other personal property were confiscated

Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to a five year term in 2007 under article 88

Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to a five year term in 2007 under article 88

by police.

His wife, Vu Minh Khanh, said that he had remained calm and had protested peacefully until he was taken away to a detention centre, known as B14, in the suburban district of Thanh Tri.

She said that their apartment had been under close surveillance by the police since Tuesday when the EU delegation began its meeting with Vietnamese officials.

“I strongly oppose this arrest because it’s a trumped-up charge,” said Mrs Khanh.

“My husband has done nothing wrong. He’s fought tirelessly out of his own conscience, speaking up for the voiceless, for human rights and for a better Vietnam,” she said.

Mr Dai was arrested in 2007 on the same charge of using propaganda against the state, under Article 88 of the penal code.

He served four years of a five year jail sentence and was only released from house arrest, which confined him to his neighbourhood, at the beginning of this year.

Ambushed by masked men

He has since returned to his previous role as a campaigner for human rights and an advocate for democratic change in Vietnam.

After initial harassment in March, he was allowed to travel more freely and meet fellow activists in different parts of the country.

However, on December 6, he and three associates were ambushed by masked men and badly beaten as they travelled by taxi from a meeting with fellow campaigners in Nghe An province south of the capital.

Dai had earlier expressed optimism about the prospects for political change, and saw more scope for freedom of expression in Vietnam. However, the climate of repression has intensified in recent weeks.

Several other activists, including lawyers, labour rights campaigners and bloggers have also suffered physical assaults.

Dai’s fellow activists have expressed alarm at his arrest.

One said that it was very disturbing that such a prominent figure could be detained even while the European delegation was still in Hanoi.

Some observers suspect the current crackdown is related to preparations for the Communist Party congress, which is expected next month.

The country’s four most senior leaders are due to be replaced and there have been signs of power struggles behind the scenes as party factions jostle for primacy.