Authorities in Vietnam have arrested a Facebook user after questioning her ties to accounts run by members of two organizations targeted by authorities, according to her husband, amid a wider crackdown on critical content posted on the social media network.
Duong Thi Lanh, 36, was taken into custody on Jan. 30 after being summoned for questioning by police in central Vietnam’s Dak Nong province over her connection to Facebook accounts “Uyen Thuy” and “Mai Bui,” Lanh’s husband Tran Coi told RFA’s Vietnamese Service over the weekend.
Coi said Lanh was told to arrive at the Nhan Co communal building for interrogation at 2:00 p.m., and when she arrived “they arrested her immediately.”
“They drove her home to search our house and I asked them if they had a warrant, but they said that because my wife had been arrested, they were allowed to search,” he said.
“I asked for an arrest order and the reason for her arrest, and they said I had no business demanding them. They said I should ask my wife why she had been arrested.”
During the search, police confiscated three cellphones and military uniforms for soldiers from the Republic of Vietnam, which governed southern Vietnam during the Vietnam War, Coi said.
He said police informed him that Lanh will be held in detention for three months, without providing further details.
An officer who answered a call to the Dak Nong provincial police station told RFA that he was unaware of Lanh’s arrest.
On Jan. 27, Lanh told followers during a livestream she hosted on her Facebook account “SG Ngọc Lan” that she had joined thousands who took to the streets in rare demonstrations in several cities on June 10, 2018 to protest draft laws on Cybersecurity and government plans to grant long-term leases for foreign companies operating in special economic zones.
Lanh was detained along with 10 others a day later while at a park in Ho Chi Minh City, taken to a police station, and released after paying a fine of 150,000 dong (U.S. $6.50).
In the livestream, Lanh denied being a member of the Hien Phap Group, a network of activists calling for rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by Vietnam’s constitution, and said that while she had formerly supported the Temporary Vietnam Government, which authorities have labeled an overseas “counter-revolutionary” force, she withdrew her support in 2017.
Uyen Thuy is a Facebook account registered to a member of Hien Phap, while Mai Bui is tied to a member of the Temporary Vietnam Government.
Eight members of the Hien Phap Group were arrested for taking part in the June 10 protest, and authorities accuse the Temporary Vietnam Government of detonating a petrol bomb to blow up Tan Son Nhat airport on April 30 and May 1 of 2017, and implicate the group in the explosion of a gasoline tanker at the airport on April 22 of the same year.
Lanh has regularly written about human rights issues and democracy in posts on her Facebook account, and she is the second Facebook user to be arrested after Vietnam’s Cyber Security Law went into effect on Jan. 1.
Meanwhile, authorities in southern Vietnam’s Ben Tre province summoned university student Tran Ngoc Phuc, 21, for questioning on Feb. 1 after he posted content on his Facebook page deemed harmful to the ruling Communist Party and the government, according to official online newspaper Dong Khoi.
Truc was also accused of using Facebook to instigate people to protest and join “reactionary” Facebook groups, such as one called “people who like the BBC.”
It is unclear whether Phuc was arrested, but he could face charges of “making, storing, and spreading information, materials, and items for the purpose of opposing the government of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, which carries a minimum of three years in prison if convicted.
Police in Ben Tre also summoned Facebook user Dang Tri Thuc on Dec. 20 last year for using his account to “instigate protests.” Authorities said Thuc “admitted his wrongdoing” during questioning.
Alleged Viet Tan member
Lanh’s arrest comes a week after authorities in Binh Duong province detained Facebook user Tran Van Quyen, 20, for allegedly joining Viet Tan—an unsanctioned pro-democracy party with members inside Vietnam and abroad, according to his brother and lawyer.
Quyen’s brother, Tran Van Cuong, told RFA over the weekend that police came to their house early on the morning of Jan. 23 with an urgent search order, but Quyen had already left to visit with his friends at a nearby café.
“They arrested him at the café and drove him home to read us the search order,” Cuong said.
“They rifled through the area where Quyen works in our house, but couldn’t find anything and left after making me sign two documents about the search, without leaving me a copy,” he said.
“[Last week], they called me to tell me to bring some clothes for Quyen. I went to the station, but they wouldn’t let me see Quyen. They told me he is in the B34 Detention Center in Cu Chi.”
Quyen’s lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng, said in a post on his Facebook page that police didn’t provide an official letter informing the family about his arrest and the accusation against him, although “one policeman told the family that Quyen was arrested for being a member of Viet Tan.”
In a phone call with RFA, Mieng said that he was suspicious of the order that the policeman was alleged to have read to the family about Quyen’s arrest.
“I think the order might not have been approved yet, or there might not even have been an order,” he said, adding that the family eventually did receive one, but authorities “only made it after the arrest, with the date and time he was taken into custody added to make it fit.”
Hoang Tu Duy, Viet Tan’s spokesperson, did not confirm that Quyen is a member of the group, but expressed concern over his arrest.
“There has been an increasing crackdown on political dissent in Vietnam in recent years and all of these arrests should be condemned,” Duy said.
“We are concerned about all of the recent arrests, including that of Tran Van Quyen.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.