By James Hookway
Updated Feb. 28, 2011 7:45 a.m. ET

One of Vietnam’s best-known dissidents is being detained by police in Ho Chi Minh City for posting an Internet appeal for the overthrow of the Communist government, a state-run newspaper reported Monday.

Nguyen Dan Que posted his call to the people to rise up last week, and the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that the endocrinologist was arrested Saturday while distributing pamphlets calling for a revolution like those sweeping the Middle East in recent weeks. At the same time, attempts in China to organize similar protests were drawing a swift government reaction, with police in Beijing deploying a SWAT team and dogs Sunday to disrupt online efforts to ignite a Middle East-style “Jasmine Revolution.”

Dr. Que, 69, is a staunch critic of Vietnam’s one-party system and one of few Vietnamese to openly criticize the way this booming economy is run. His detention Saturday was the fourth time he has been arrested in 33 years, and he has spent a total of 20 years in prison. Most recently detained in 2003 and convicted in 2004 of “abusing his democratic freedoms by jeopardizing the state,” he was freed in 2005 under a New Year’s Amnesty. He won the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1995.

Vietnamese police officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

State-run media reported that Dr. Que explicitly referred to mass protests that have shaken regimes across the Middle East this year, overthrowing the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia. Reports said he urged young Vietnamese to follow the lead of the Arab world. Those uprisings have rattled authoritarian governments elsewhere, too, evidenced by rigorous police action to break up embryonic protests in countries such as China and Malaysia in recent days.

Authorities in Vietnam also appear to be on edge. Prices in February were up 12.31% from a year earlier, the highest inflation rate in more than two years, and the government has been forced to raise fuel prices by up to 24% because a series of currency devaluations have made it increasingly expensive to subsidize diesel and gasoline.

Dr. Que’s detention is the only action taken by Vietnamese authorities since the spate of Middle East protests. Previously Vietnam’s leaders have stamped out any efforts to push for multiparty democracy and have arrested dozens of dissidents and also have restricted Internet access across the country, curtailing protesters’ ability to organize.

In addition, despite Vietnam’s worsening inflation problem, the country has enjoyed economic growth averaging 7% a year over the past decade, providing substantial new employment opportunities for younger Vietnamese.

The Washington Post newspaper Sunday published an opinion piece by Dr. Que in which he wrote that “if Washington is looking to Vietnam for a long-term partner for peace and regional stability, America would do well to recognize publicly that only a Vietnam that is free and democratic can provide one.”

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