- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 26, 2010

HANOI, VIETNAM (AP) - Police in southern Vietnam have arrested two bloggers over the past week in an apparent crackdown before a crucial Communist Party Congress, rights group and state media reported.

Le Nguyen Huong Tra, who blogged under the pen name of Do Long Girl, was taken into police custody from a home in Ho Chi Minh City on Saturday night for allegedly slandering a senior government official, the online newspaper VnExpress reported Tuesday.

Tra was accused of slander by claiming the official had done favors for a Miss Vietnam pageant winner and certain artists because they were his son’s lovers, VnExpress reported. The newspaper did not specify what sort of favors had allegedly been done.

The police investigation said Tra wrongly accused the official, whose family suffered negative consequences, the newspaper said. Police declined to comment on the case.

Meanwhile, police in Ho Chi Minh City also arrested blogger Phan Thanh Hai, known as Anhbasg, over the weekend and continued to detain Nguyen Van Hai, a blogger known as Dieu Cay, even though he had served out his 30-month sentence on “trumped-up” tax evasion charges, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Dieu Cay was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to 30 months in jail after encouraging people to protest at the Olympic torch ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City shortly before Beijing Olympics. He criticized China’s policies in Tibet and Vietnam’s handling of the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea.

“The Vietnam government is shameless in constructing charges and rationales to keep peaceful critics like Dieu Cay behind bars,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The pre-Party Congress crackdown is swinging into full gear and government critics are being targeted.”

The ruling Communist Party is scheduled to hold its five-year congress in January, when party leaders will be selected in a secretive process and will chart the country’s course for the next five years.

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