Formosa fears behind latest crackdown ?

Writing under the name of Mother Mushroom, Quynh has written about injustice in Vietnam for a decade

Writing under the name of Mother Mushroom, Quynh has written about injustice in Vietnam for a decade

The arrest of another prominent blogger, and dire warnings of foreign based plots against the state, signal an intensification of Vietnam’s campaign to silence government critics.

The arrest on Monday of Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who writes under the name of Me Nam or Mother Mushroom, puts all independent bloggers on notice that their freedom is at risk.

The ambassadors of the United States and the European Union put out statements expressing deep concern at developments.

They said the arrest, and the charging of Quynh with spreading anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the penal code, violated Vietnam’s international obligations and its own laws on human rights.

Such appeals cannot be expected to sway opinion in a Communist party leadership that has shown itself increasingly unconcerned by foreign criticism.

The crackdown appears to signal the government’s alarm at the growth of a popular environmental movement following a toxic leak off the north-central coast in April that damaged the livelihoods of many fishing communities.

Quynh, who has been blogging about injustice in Vietnam for a decade, may have been targeted now in an effort to intimidate the swelling protest movement.

The Network of Vietnamese Bloggers, of which Quynh was a founder member, said she had recently focused on the campaign against the Taiwanese steel company, Formosa, which was responsible for the environmental disaster.

It said her posts demanding accountability for the mass killing of fish appeared to be the reason for her sudden arrest. She was arrested and handcuffed after being confronted by a large contingent of police when she arrived at a prison on Monday to visit a jailed fellow blogger.

The police took her back to her apartment in Nha Trang and confiscated material related to the environmental protests, before announcing the intention to charge her under Article 88.

No transparency

Some ten thousand protesters demonstrated outside the steel plant earlier this month in a sign of the growing groundswell of support for more action against Formosa.

The company agreed to pay $500 million in compensation in June, but activists say there has been no transparency in the investigation, no hard evidence about what chemicals actually caused the damage, and no guarantee that similar disasters won’t happen in the future.

Government officials have shown no tolerance for such protest movements in the past. They appear to feel vulnerable to allegations that they are too close to foreign investors such as Formosa, and incapable or unwilling to defend the well being of ordinary citizens.

Quyhn was told she will face charges under Article 88 which is often used to silence government critics. Photo courtesy ANTV

Quyhn was told she will face charges under Article 88 which is often used to silence government critics. Photo courtesy ANTV

The public security ministry has attempted to shift the blame onto foreign based activists. Last week it accused the Vietnam Reform Party, Viet Tan, of being a terrorist movement, and of infiltrating activists into Vietnam.

State media, which normally gives little coverage to the prosecution of bloggers, went into unusual detail in its reports on the arrest of Quynh.

“Police’s evaluation of the blogger’s 400 Facebook articles, totaling 1,180 pages in length, found them to be ‘offering a pessimistic, one-sided view that caused public confusion and affected the people’s faith in the State,'” reported Tuoi Tre.

It noted that she had also been involved in a campaign to stop the suspicious deaths of citizens in police custody.

“The document is an abuse of democratic freedoms to agitate the people to turn against the State and the regime, causing detriment to national security and social safety and order,” it quoted police as saying.

“This is a deliberate act that carries irrational prejudice against the people’s police force. The document prompts readers to misunderstand the nature of the issue, besmirches the reputation of the people’s police force, and damages the relationship between police and the people,” the police statement said.

The exponential growth in social media in Vietnam in recent years means that the authorities can no longer contain and control public information in a way they would like.

The Communist party, however, still has the will to threaten, intimidate and imprison its boldest critics in an attempt to retain limits on freedom of speech.