Vietnam to Its Journalists: Don't Tread on China

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HOANG DINH NAM / AFP / Getty Images

An internet cafe in Hanoi in 2009

Hanoi is stepping up pressure on its critics, detaining one Vietnamese journalist and two Vietnamese bloggers this past week after they wrote provocative reports that questioned China's territorial aims. Though there have been no official announcements about the charges, all were allegedly arrested for violating "national security."

The latest arrest took place early morning on Sept. 3 when police detained blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, 30, at her home in the coastal city of Nha Trang. Quynh's mother said that plainclothes police had been watching the house for several months, ever since her daughter had started criticizing Vietnam for giving China the green light to mine its vast stores of bauxite, a mineral needed to process aluminum, on her blog. "The warrant said my daughter was arrested under Article 258 of the Criminal Code for abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the state's interests," said an emotional Nguyen Thi Tuyet Lan, Quynh's mother. "They searched her house until 3:30 that morning and then put her in a van that disappeared into the quiet of the night." The family has not heard from her since.

On Sept. 3, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists criticized Vietnam's recent crackdown on journalists and political bloggers, whose "independent reporting challenges the tightly censored state-run media's traditional monopoly on local news and opinion." But it's not exactly a surprise. The Vietnamese government has long been extremely sensitive about its relationship with neighboring China. The two nations have battled for centuries, last going to war in 1979 when Beijing sent troops into Vietnam to punish Hanoi for ousting the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and installing a Vietnamese-backed government. Today, China is a huge trading partner and investor in Vietnam — providing cash that the country desperately needs.

The blogger's arrest follows the detention of two other writeres. On Aug. 27, a blogger named "Wind Trader", whose real name is Bui Thanh Hieu, accused the Communist Party of rolling over when it came to China on his blog, and was also critical of the government's handling of the controversial mining project and its territorial disputes with Beijing. A day later, authorities arrested Pham Doan Trang, a 31-year-old journalist working for VietnamNet, a reform-leaning, online website, which, like all domestic media in Vietnam, including blogs, is under the control of the government. Trang covered the long-running boundary dispute between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea. Access to several of her articles on VietnamNet are now blocked.

It's not clear what work Trang was arrested for. Like many young Vietnamese, Trang also had a blog. Her last posting was in May, where she discussed the controversial bauxite mining plan that was being debated by the National Assembly. Her single entry that month contained fairly innocuous remarks, mentioning only that the government had hastily prepared their report on the bauxite project. Nguyen Anh Tuan, the editor of VietnamNet has said that all he knew was that his reporter was arrested for violating national security, insisting that these alleged crimes were not related to her VietnamNet stories. Tuan has heard nothing from Trang since her arrest, nor does he know where she is being held. "We have to wait now."