Human rights groups have called for the immediate release of a Vietnamese activist arrested for criticising one-party Communist rule on his Facebook page.

Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong, 28, from Ho Chi Minh city was arrested in late September and now faces charges of “making, storing, disseminating or propagandising information” intended “to oppose the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”, said Human Rights Watch (HRW).

HRW has called for Vuong to be released and all charges dropped, noting the national security charge could mean Vietnamese authorities could both detain the young activist and deny him access to legal counsel until the police investigation is finished – conditions it described as “conducive to mistreatment or torture”.

“The government thought to silence Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong by detaining him for expressing his opinions on Facebook,” said John Sifton, HRW’s Asia advocacy director. “But this has only focused more attention on his views, and the government’s repressive efforts to censor online material.”

It is not clear which posts the authorities specifically objected to, but Vuong regularly live-streamed his commentary about social and political issues in Vietnam to his more than 10,000 Facebook followers, including his support for democracy and critical views of the ruling Communist party.

In one livestream he said: “I am not certain that the entire state apparatus is corrupt, but I am 100% certain that those who have been involved in corruption are Communist party members. Vietnam only allows one single party and does not allow any competing opposition.”

Voung also shared updates about the protests in Hong Kong as well as cases of land-grabbing and political prisoners at home.

Vietnamese police said they had repeatedly visited Vuong at home since 2017 urging him to stop but he had continued to “defame” the government.

The Communist party of Vietnam has been in power since 1975 and the one-party government maintains a tight grip on the media and severe restrictions on freedom of expression and association. His arrest is the latest in an ongoing crackdown against critics and pro-democracy activists. This year 11 people have been convicted for criticising the government, and sentenced to between two and nine years in prison, including for posts on social media.

HRW has called on Facebook to take a stand. “Facebook, as one of the most widely used communications platforms in Vietnam, has leverage to publicly raise human rights concerns with the government,” said Sifton. “While the company is subject to pressure from Vietnam, it also has clout because of its immense popularity in the country.”

By Kate Lamb - The Guardian - October 8, 2019