A Vietnamese pop star and pro-democracy advocate has been detained as part of an increasingly bold crackdown on dissidents in the one-party communist state.

Mai Khoi, a singer-songwriter, was returning home from performing in Europe when she was detained at Hanoi airport and taken for questioning, Human Rights Watch said.

She has long been on the radar of Vietnam’s authorities, taking heat for her pro-democracy views. In the past she has been harassed, evicted and had her concerts shut down, but until now she has been able to travel freely.

“Mai Khoi is someone who they Vietnamese authorities are certainly interested in and they see her as a dissident, but she is someone who is high-profile enough that they would basically leave her alone,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.

“This is the first time we have seen her subjected to the kind of things that your ordinary dissidents would face when they are trying to come back from overseas.”

Mai Khoi has not shied away from controversy in Vietnam, a country with heavy state media censorship and where bloggers and activists are beaten, threatened and intimidated.

During a visit by Donald Trump to Vietnam last November, Mai Khoi held up a banner along the planned route of his motorcade bearing the words: “Piss on you Trump”.

“I was just protesting the way any American would protest, I haven’t done anything wrong,” she reportedly said at the time.

After that demonstration, Mai Khoi and her Australian husband, Banjamin Swanton, were told they were being evicted from their apartment in the Vietnamese capital.

In 2016 Mai Khoi nominated herself to run for the national assembly on a pro-democracy platform. A year earlier she met Barack Obama, then US president, when he visited Vietnam.

According to information on her website, since running for parliament Mai Khoi has effectively been banned from performing in Vietnam.

It is unclear what prompted authorities in Vietnam to detain her now. Robertson said the government had intensified its crackdown on rights activists in recent months.

“The authorities are getting bolder,” he said. “I think the Vietnam government feels that the US and other countries are busy somewhere else and this gives them ample running room to crack down on the dissidents the way they have wanted to in the past.”

By Kate Lamb - The Guardian - March 27, 2018


Vietnam detains dissident singer

Do Nguyen Mai Khoi’s songs have brought comparisons with Russian protest band Pussy Riot

A prominent Vietnamese singer and free-speech campaigner was detained at Hanoi’s international airport Tuesday on her return from Europe, the latest in a wave of arrests and detentions in the communist-run country.

Do Nguyen Mai Khoi, 34 years old, is one of Vietnam’s best-known dissidents. She met with former U.S. President Barack Obama during his visit to Vietnam in 2016 and her songs have brought comparisons with Russian protest band Pussy Riot. She tried, but failed, to be selected as an independent candidate for Vietnam’s closely controlled National Assembly.

In November, security officials barricaded Ms. Mai Khoi in her home after she held a placard criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump as his motorcade rolled through Hanoi during a visit he made on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit in Da Nang.

Ms. Mai Khoi’s Australian husband, Ben Swanton, said it was unclear to him who was holding her or why. “I’ve been unable to contact her. Various embassies have enquired and been told that the authorities ‘do not know anything about it,’” he wrote in message.

Vietnamese authorities didn’t immediately respond to requests for information.

Ms. Mai Khoi arrived on a connecting Aeroflot flight from Moscow at approximately 9:15 a.m. before sending her husband a brief message that she had been detained. She had embarked in Finland, where she had been promoting her group’s new record, “Bat Dong,” or “Disagreement,” in which she sings about some of the grievances of ordinary Vietnamese people.

Ms. Mai Khoi’s fame had helped protect her as she continued producing records with her band, the Dissidents. Diplomats often sought her views, as did business leaders such as Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s executive director, Eric Schmidt.

In an interview late last year, Ms. Mai Khoi said that she had faced a deepening pattern of intimidation. She said police had called in her parents for questioning and had asked her landlord to evict her.

A recent Human Rights Watch report estimated that more than 100 people are currently being held for criticizing the Vietnamese government, sometimes for posting unflattering remarks on Facebook. Diplomats say the crackdown has been gathering moment for more than a year as conservative Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong cements his control.

Political analysts in Vietnam say the crackdown on dissidents is doing little to derail the country’s warming relationship with the U.S. Earlier this month, the USS Carl Vinson became the first American aircraft carrier to visit since the Vietnam War. Washington needs allies to help address China’s growing commercial and military influence in Asia, and Vietnam, which has its own territorial disputes with Beijing, fits the bill.

By James Hookway - The Wall Street Journal - March 27, 2018