Media watchdog urges Vietnam to release blogger

HANOI (AFP) — A media rights watchdog on Thursday urged Vietnamese authorities to free a blogger arrested before the Olympic torch relay who the group said was being targetted for his political views.

Nguyen Hoang Hai, who blogs under the pseudonym of Dieu Cay, was arrested April 19 for tax fraud. Authorities accuse him of not paying taxes for 10 years on a property that he owns, said the group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

“Tax fraud was just a pretext to prevent Dieu Cay from demonstrating when the Olympic torch went through Ho Chi Minh City and from criticising the communist party online,” RSF said in a statement received Thursday.

The Beijing flame was dogged by protests against China’s rule of Tibet and other human rights issues on several stops on its global journey.

Dieu Cay’s arrest came 10 days before the torch passed through the former Saigon. The blogger is known for his opposition to Beijing’s claim of sovereignty over the disputed Paracel and Spratleys archipelagos in the South China Sea — island chains that Vietnam also claims.

“Dieu Cay had posted articles on his blog about protests worldwide during the Olympic torch’s progress through various cities, along with articles critical of China’s policy in Tibet and the Parcel and Spratly archipelagos,” RSF said.

“He had called for demonstrations as the torch passed through Ho Chi Minh City,” the group added.

In Vietnam, anti-Chinese sentiment had flared in rallies since late last year over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos, and the issue was hotly debated on unofficial weblogs ahead of the torch relay.

Vietnam initially allowed peaceful demonstrations outside Chinese diplomatic missions last December but later deployed police to stop repeat rallies.

The Spratly and Paracel island chains have been flashpoints for years.

The Spratlys are claimed in full or part by China and Vietnam as well as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and the Paracels are claimed by China, which now occupies them, as well as by Vietnam and Taiwan.