Vietnam arrests blogger for reporting torch protests

Hanoi (dpa) – A prominent democracy activist whose blog featured reports on demonstrations against the relay of the Beijing Olympic torch has been arrested by Vietnamese police, local press reported Wednesday, a week ahead of the torch’s scheduled arrival in Ho Chi Minh City on April 29.

The newspaper Vietnam Law reported that Ho Chi Minh City police Tuesday arrested Nguyen Van Hai, who blogs under the name Dieu Cay, on charges of tax evasion. The paper said police had searched Hai’s house Monday and found evidence that he and his ex-wife had understated their monthly rent to avoid paying the full value-added tax.

Hai is a member of a group of bloggers known as the Union of Independent Journalists. Other members of the group have called for protests along the torch’s route when it is carried through Ho Chi Minh City.

Members of the group were also involved in organising demonstrations in December and January against Chinese moves to assert sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which Vietnam also claims.

Vietnamese democracy activists, who requested anonymity, said that Hai had actually been detained on Monday in the resort town of Dalat, 300 kilometres north-west of Ho Chi Minh City, and escorted back to Ho Chi Minh City to facilitate the search of his house.

On his blog, Hai had featured articles on protests against the torch in other cities around the world, and others critical of China’s policies in Tibet and the Spratlys and opposing the torch’s relay through Vietnam.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung held a meeting with Ho Chi Minh City officials to review their plans for preventing demonstrations during the torch relay.

A detailed schedule for the relay in Ho Chi Minh City was published in Vietnamese press in March, but has apparently been rescinded since pro-Tibetan protests were staged against the torch’s progress through various European cities.

The protests at the torch relays came in the wake of violent clashes between Tibetans and Chinese police which began in early March.