Nguyen Van Hai – a Vietnamese blogger and a founding member of the Free Journalists Club – is reportedly in a very weak state after his hunger strike entered its 30th day. Nguyen is serving a 12-year jail term for anti-state propaganda.
His condition is winning headlines around the world as Vietnamese President Truon Tan Sang prepares for talks in Washington this week with U.S. President Barack Obama, who has previously raised the dissident’s case. Forty-six political activists have been jailed in Vietnam so far this year.
Sang’s preference will be to focus on obtaining an end to a U.S. ban on lethal weapons and full normalization of bilateral relations with Washington, which would prefer to see the release of dissidents and an end to the latest crackdown.
Dieu Cay, as he is also known, ran afoul of the authorities and was sentenced in September 2012. A previous similar hunger strike landed him in a hospital before he agreed to end it.
But his relatives say he is weak again and they are concerned about his health after three months in solitary confinement in what they added were extremely bad conditions.
Privately owned media outlets – newspapers, magazines, online publications, television and radio – are all banned in Vietnam. The country is struggling under a sharp economic downturn blamed largely on the policies of crony, half-baked capitalism conducted by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
Political activists, bloggers, journalists, lawyers, Buddhist and Christian clergy felt the wrath of the latest crackdown, which accompanied increased criticism of the government, and in particular, Dung’s handling of an economy that bucked the regional trend and brought leading state-run enterprises to their knees.
Last month, Dung faced an unprecedented confidence vote and fared badly, winning 160 low-confidence votes in the 498-seat National Assembly.
Human rights activists are hoping Obama will raise the plight of Dieu Cay during his meetings with Truon. He made similar moves following the arrest of Mam Sonando in neighboring Cambodia and on behalf of the plight there of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who had spent most of the past four years in self-imposed exile before returning for this Sunday’s elections.
In Vietnam, other prisoners have also protested and a riot erupted earlier this month in Dong Nai province, north of Ho Chi Minh City, over conditions and the treatment of inmates.
However, jail and the threat of imprisonment have done little to curb Vietnamese bloggers. Among the more popular is Anh Ba Sam, or the Gossiper, also known as the “pavement news agency”, which parodies the state-run Vietnam News Agency. It draws 100,000 hits a day.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter at @lukeanthonyhunt.