Police in Vietnam have arrested land rights activist Le Manh Ha on charges of spreading anti-state materials on social media, his wife told RFA Thursday.
Ha’s arrest Wednesday already marks the sixth time since the start of this year that authorities have detained people for human rights advocacy.
He had been operating a YouTube account called “People’s Voice Television” and a Facebook account called “Voice of the Vietnamese People,” where he shared his criticisms of the government.
Years ago, the government took his community’s land in Na Hang district in the northern province of Tuyen Quang to build a power plant. He has said that the government has not yet paid him and his former neighbors proper compensation. Since then, Ha has studied Vietnamese law and has helped others with legal advice and petitioning the government.
Police in plainclothes arrested Ha Wednesday in Tuyen Quang’s Chiem Hoa district. They took him to his current home in Tuyen Quang city and searched his house. His family told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the authorities have not yet provided them with any documentation related to the arrest.
“At about 8:30 a.m. yesterday when I was getting my mother to the hospital, a local resident informed me that the police arrested Ha in Chiem Hoa,” Ha’s wife, Ma Thi Tho said.
“I decided to return home and got back around 9 a.m. and there were many police officers, around 20 or 30 of them, surrounding my home,” she said.
She said the police brought Le Manh Ha to the home at about 10:30 that morning.
“Shortly after his arrival, they read out a house search warrant and an order to prosecute my husband,” she said.
Among the items taken from Ha’s house were books on Vietnamese laws and its constitution.
Tho said police officers told her that her husband was in violation of Article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code, which prohibits spreading propaganda against the state. Article 117 has been described by analysts as a vague set of rules frequently used by authorities to stifle peaceful critics of the country’s one-party communist government.
“The real reason is because he has been fighting for the people,” Tho said.
Le Dinh Viet, Ha’s defense lawyer, said his client has been fighting to correct the injustice of not being compensated for his land during the construction of the hydropower plant.
“He did not break any laws,” Viet said.
The Tuyen Quang hydropower plant began operations in 2008, but the government has not yet finished compensating affected families. Authorities promised to provide 16 square meters of land in Tuyen Quang city for each family, but in 16 years, only half of them have received their plot of land.
While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint between citizens and their government. Some small landholders have accused authorities of pushing them aside in favor of lucrative real estate or infrastructure projects, and then paying too little in compensation.
“The Vietnamese government is using criminal law to intimidate and shut down people peacefully protesting against land confiscation,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in December 2021 about the arrests of other land rights activists in the country.
“The government should release [everyone] arrested and imprisoned under Article 117, and abolish this abusive law,” he said.
Among the remaining five arrestees this year were Le Thanh Nhat Nguyen, Le Thanh Hoan Nguyen, and Le Thanh Trung Duong, monks at the Peng Lai Temple in the southern province of Long An.
The three monks, along with their previously arrested leader Le Tung Van, were charged with article 331 for “abusing rights to freedom and democrary to violate the State’s interests, legitimate interest of organizations and individuals.”
State media did not reveal their crime, but article 331 is often used in cases involving activists advocating for human rights and religious freedom.
The other two arrestees were Nguyen Thai Hung and his wife Vu Thi Kim Hoang from the southern province of Dong Nai. Hung was in the middle of a livestream when police stormed in and arrested the couple.
Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.