Because of their age and ill health, Reporters Without Borders urges the government to be lenient with two cyber-dissidents in their 60s who are facing possible imprisonment for urging Vietnamese to follow the example of pro-democracy demonstrators in the Middle East. Their poor health would only be exacerbated if they were sent back to jail.

They are Nguyen Dan Que, 69, an independent journalist, who has been charged with anti-government propaganda and Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest and human rights activist, 64, who has a brain tumour and whose very worrying condition would inevitably suffer if he had to resume serving an existing jail sentence.

“We are dismayed to see that arrests and harassment of democracy advocates are continuing after the increase in repression of dissidents caused by January’s Communist Party congress,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Worried about possible contagion from the protests in the Maghreb and Middle East and obsessed with protecting stability at all cost, Hanoi is determined to silence its outspoken citizens and reinforce online censorship.”

Que was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City, in the south of the country, on 28 February for urging the population to “be inspired by the pro-democracy movements in Africa and the Middle East” and to “get rid of the communist dictatorship and to build a new, free, democratic, human and progressive Vietnam.” He was released 48 hours later on condition that he would cooperate closely with the authorities.

Reporters Without Borders has learned that Que nonetheless issued a statement on 3 March announcing his refusal to cooperate with the police and denouncing the arbitrary charges brought against him. He was placed under close surveillance when he was granted a conditional release in 2005 after more than 20 years in prison.

Father Ly, a member of the Bloc 8406 pro-democracy network, was detained briefly on 1 March for calling for Middle East-style protests and for criticising the government in his articles. Sentenced to eight years in prison in 2007, he was granted a 12-month suspension of his sentence so that he could receive treatment for his brain condition.

The judicial authorities are supposed to decide on 14 March whether to extend the suspension of his sentence or send him back to prison. Ly has ruled out any possibility of compromising with the authorities, announcing: “I don’t care if I go back to prison (…) if necessary I will go on hunger strike.”

Sixteen other netizens are currently detained in Vietnam for expressing their views freely online.

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