(VNRN) – A writer who’s also one of Vietnam’s popular bloggers was arrested Dec. 6 afternoon following a lengthy police search of his home in Ho Chi Minh City, according to his friends and family. Nguyen Quang Lap (Nguyễn Quang Lập), who calls himself Bo Lap (Bọ Lập) and is the owner of the blog Que Choa (Quê Choa), was reportedly charged with “abusing democratic freedoms” under the ambiguous and overbroad Article 258 of the Vietnamese Penal Code.
Lap’s arrest is the second of a prominent blogger in as many weeks. It also came a little more than one month after the website nguyentandung.org, named after Vietnam’s prime minister, published a series of articles attacking the Que Choa blog and ominously warning that Lap “should know the price he has to pay” for his writings.
The site, which is pro-government but has never been proved to be directed by the Prime Minister, singled out articles on Que Choa criticizing recent statements by the Communist Party’s Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong (Nguyễn Phú Trọng). The Secretary General had warned that anti-corruption efforts were difficult because, quoting an old proverb, “don’t break the vase when striking the rats.”
The police came to Lap’s house at 9 am, executed a search and, according to his brother, declared that they had caught Lap “red-handed publishing articles with contents considered disparaging, opposing the government.”
Que Choa blog publishes news and social commentaries, some by Lap and some reprinted from elsewhere. It was among the country’s most read blogs. Following several hacker attacks, Lap created mirrors of his blog on open platforms Blogspot and WordPress. The mirror sites became as important as the original blog, as Vietnam’s firewall often blocks access to Lap’s site.
Lap is an accomplished writer, playwright and award-winning screenwriter. In 2001, he won the Best Screenwriter award at the 13th Vietnam Film Festival, sometimes considered the country’s Oscars. His play The Living Souls (Những Linh Hồn Sống) was performed throughout the country and he wrote the screen play for The Deserted Valley (Thung Lũng Hoang Vắng) which won the FIPRESCI Prize and was nominated for Best Asian Feature Film at the Singapore International Film Festival.
Article 258 of the Penal Code is an overbroad and ambiguous statute entitled “Abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.” It has been used to prosecute a wide array of people, from religious practitioners to reporters and bloggers.