Vietnam in new crackdown as political tensions rise

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By Ian Timberlake, AFP

HANOI — A fresh crackdown is under way against bloggers and activists in Vietnam as political tensions rise before a Communist Party Congress in January, observers say. In the latest arrest, Cu Huy Ha Vu, a prominent government critic, was held for “propaganda against the state,” official television said Saturday. It quoted the Ministry of Public Security as saying investigators found anti-state documents in Vu’s laptop and that he had advocated a multi-party system. Last year Vu filed an unsuccessful court complaint against Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung over a controversial bauxite mine.

Authorities also rejected a bid by Vu’s law firm to represent at trial several Catholic parishioners convicted last month in connection with a dispute over a cemetery. The Catholics, and now Vu, are among at least 17 community activists, dissidents and bloggers reported to have been convicted, arrested or charged since October 1. While critics outside the ruling Communist Party have been targeted, observers say there has also been criticism from within, over a scandal at state-run Vietnam Shipbuilding Industry Group (Vinashin). Vinashin has been driven to the brink of bankruptcy and lawmakers in the communist-dominated National Assembly last week demanded answers. One deputy, Nguyen Minh Thuyet, called for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, who appointed the firm’s former chairman Pham Thanh Binh. Binh was suspended in July and later arrested over the group’s debts, which local media said amounted to at least 80 trillion dong (US$4.3 billion). Observers have questioned why the long-rumored scandal was finally allowed to surface in the state-controlled press in recent months, and have speculated about its impact on the prime minister, whom they say is fighting to maintain a top leadership post. The government has also been criticized — by a broad section of society — for its decision to allow the bauxite mining in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Prominent intellectuals and former officials last month petitioned the government to stop the development. The five-yearly Congress determines which leaders will run the one-party state. Vietnam has become increasingly integrated into the wider world and observers say the ruling party is nervous about the growing penetration of alternative voices.