The harassment started on 29 June with the arrival of a terse fax, sent to the company owned by me and my wife, from the culture ministry. It said we had published ‘bad articles’from foreign news sources.
We later found out that the political police, the PA25, had instigated the charge via the culture ministry. Having been summonsed to the ministry on 6 July, my wife was told the police were investigating us for what they called ‘propaganda against the state”.
I don’t think there was a particular article that the authorities took offence to, although we had covered the dissident trials/ persecutions from newswire services. We have little to go on otherwise, given the constrained domestic press that can only print articles on this subject which are templated word-by-word by the culture ministry. We publish in English and Vietnamese, but the political stories are only published in English for our subscribers’ interest.
I believe we were caught up in a large – but not talked-about – campaign of suppressing a feeling of growing freedom of expression that has arisen following Vietnam’s entry to the World Trade Organisation in January. We heard that a couple of other websites owned by locals were also targeted.
My wife, as the director of the company, was told by culture ministry officials (no police were present at the first meeting) that she could face two years in prison.
Later there was a raid on our office by the PA25 and other officials. Most of our staff were summonsed to PA25 headquarters and were grilled from 8am to 2pm.
Our staff and my wife were hauled in for questioning on many occasions over several weeks.
I was finally called in for questioning later in July, when I stated that I was solely responsible for any article published online based on a foreign news source. I also pointed out that articles on dissidents were sourced from newswires.
On 17 August the police published a story in its online newspaper and five other online publications accusing my wife and myself of publishing ‘reactionary’articles about dissidents.
The following week I was hauled into the immigration ministry and fined the maximum amount on a visa charge. When paying the fine, my wife was told by an official that the PA25 had warned that, unless I left Vietnam very soon, ‘Much more severe action would be taken against me.”
I left under duress on 24 August for Perth. I am still concerned for the safety of my wife and the six-year-old son I was forced to leave behind. They will join me here when everything dies down.