Vietnam Tightens the Squeeze on Its Bloggers

By Shawn Crispin

When Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Lan Thang left his home in Hanoi to report on the trial of a group of political activists charged with anti-state crimes, he switched off his mobile phone to avoid government surveillance of his movements. Despite taking that precaution, the police raided the hotel where he was staying in the northern city of Vinh a day before the court hearing. Thang videotaped the raid from his balcony and posted the footage on his personal blog just minutes before he was arrested.

The police justified his detention without charge on the grounds that he had traveled to Vinh at a “sensitive” time. He and two other bloggers he traveled with were held in police custody for three days and were released only after the verdict in the two-day trial was announced on January 9, 2013. Thang says he was beaten during interrogations and later strip-searched by police officials looking for hidden digital camera memory cards.

“I’m a focal point for police,” Thang told CPJ, adding that he has been detained and interrogated on “dozens” of occasions because of his blogging. “When there is a trial of activists or planned protests, they send plainclothes police to guard my house to make sure I don’t leave.” To dodge trailing officials, Thang said, he now leaves his house several days in advance of big news events and communicates only over foreign-hosted online platforms like Skype to avoid GPS tracking of his location.

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