Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Vietnamese authorities have charged three bloggers and high-profile activists for "speaking out" against the government and "conducting propaganda against the one-party Communist state," official media reported. Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan could be prosecuted and go to jail again for, among other things, posting a number of articles between September 2007 and October 2010 on Free Journalist Club website, which they co-founded.
In article published on Sunday, pro-government newspaper Than Nien said that the articles, which covered politically sensitive topics such as workers' strikes, dissident trials and anti-China protests over the South China Sea, had "distorted and denigrated the party and state".
All three will be charged under Article 88 of the penal code and could face up to 20 years in prison.
Nguyen Van Hai's lawyer, Nguyen Quoc Dat, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that he was not optimistic about battling the charges.
The case has been transferred to the Ho Chi Minh City People's Court, state media reported Saturday. But no date has been set, Dat said.
Known by his pen name Dieu Cay, Nguyen Van Hai was detained following his participation in anti-China protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics. Although traditional allies, Communist Vietnam and Communist China have split over recent territorial disputes.
Van Hai was eventually prosecuted on allegedly trumped-up tax evasion charges and sentenced to 30 months in prison.
He was supposed to get out of prison in October 2010 but on the day of his scheduled release, his family woke up to a pre-dawn police raid on their home. Police beat his wife and told neighbours he was facing new charges.
The other two bloggers and activists are Phan Thanh Hai, 43, who wrote under the pen name Anh Ba Saigon about issues including territorial disputes with China, environmentally-sensitive bauxite projects, and political corruption; and Ta Phong Tan, 44, a former policewoman and member of Vietnam's ruling Communist Party before she became a freelance journalist, blogged about abuses in Vietnam's legal system.
The Vietnam Committee on Human Rights called on Vietnamese authorities to release the bloggers, saying they are being detained "for the legitimate expression of their peaceful opinions."
Human Rights Watch, which has given awards to each of the three bloggers, slammed Vietnamese authorities for arresting them.