Vietnam Arrests More Bloggers After Confidence Vote
By James Hookway
Vietnam’s latest arrest of a Vietnamese blogger for criticizing the country’s Communist rulers could risk undermining its attempts to provide more accountability through other, more official channels, such as the National Assembly.
The state-run Thanh Nien newspaper reported Monday that Dinh Nhat Uy was taken into custody in Long An province in southern Vietnam on Saturday for “abusing democratic freedoms” by posting “slanderous and erroneous” reports online, a charge that could lead to up to seven years in prison.
Mr. Uy, 30 years old, is the third blogger to have been arrested in less than a month; his brother, Dinh Nguyen Kha, was sentenced to eight years in prison in May for spreading propaganda against the state. In all, 46 bloggers or prodemocracy activists have been convicted so far this year, more than in the whole of 2012, as a government nervous about its faltering economy and a growing wave of protests cranks up its efforts to stamp out dissent.
New York-based Human Rights Watch this month raised the worsening environment for dissent in Vietnam during back-to-back hearings in the U.S. Congress earlier this month. “The trend-lines show a worsening situation in Vietnam,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at the lobby group, and urged Washington to suspend trade negotiations with Vietnam as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc unless substantial improvements in the rights situation are made.
Vietnam’s foreign ministry last week rejected HRW’s criticisms of its human rights record.
But faced with the growing spread of the Internet and lively online debates, Vietnamese authorities have tried to open up alternative channels for criticism. The country’s National Assembly last week held its first ever confidence vote in the country’s top leaders as a way to introduce more checks and balances into Vietnam’s closely controlled one-party political system.
Top officials such as Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung passed, albeit with less than stellar results, with nearly a third of the assembly’s deputies giving him a low-confidence rating. Central bank Gov. Nguyen Van Binh received a low-confidence vote from 42% of the legislature, underscoring the extent to which many Vietnamese are unhappy with the country’s economic management after last year racking up the slowest growth rates since 1999.
There are no immediate consequences for Mr. Dung, Mr. Binh and the 45 other leaders and officials subjected to what analysts describe as a carefully controlled vote. Leaders failing to win the support of at least a third of the legislature for two consecutive years would be asked to step down or face a no-confidence vote, while those failing to secure the support of half the house in one year would also face a no-confidence vote that could lead to dismissal if they fail to win more than 50% of the vote.
But, said Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales, “Mr. Binh’s results, combined with the prime minister’s high vote of low confidence, indicates that the deputies are not satisfied with the handling of the economy.”
The rash of arrests immediately following the vote suggests that Vietnam’s authorities are eager to draw a line under the recriminations, analysts say.
As well as Mr. Uy, another prominent blogger, Pham Viet Dao, was arrested at home in Hanoi on Thursday and his website appeared to be blocked. Neither Mr. Uy nor Mr. Dao or their legal representatives could be reached for comment.