Vietnam police arrest dissident for 'abusing democracy rights'

HANOI (Reuters) - Police in Vietnam on Monday arrested a prominent dissident whom they accused of having abused democracy rights to infringe state interests, in the latest effort to crack down on critics in the Communist-ruled country.

Despite sweeping reforms to the economy and growing openness to social change, including gay, lesbian and trans-gender rights, Vietnam’s Communist Party retains tight media censorship and zero tolerance of criticism.

Hoang Duc Binh, 34, was arrested in the central province of Nghe An and will be detained for 90 days for opposing duty officers and abusing democracy rights, provincial police said on their official news website.

Police said he was linked to reactionary groups, frequently posted information against the communist regime on his Facebook social media account and led protests against Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp, complicating regional safety and security.

There have been frequent protests against Formosa since its steel plant killed tonnes of fish and contaminated the central coastal region in Vietnam’s worst environment disaster in April last year.

Several dissidents and bloggers voiced support for Binh online.

Traffic police stopped a car Binh was traveling in and dragged him out, said one activist with knowledge of the arrest, who declined to be named for fear of possible reprisals.

Thousands of protesters poured into a nearby street to demand Binh’s release, added the activist, dispersing only when heavy rain fell.

Regional officials were not immediately available for comment.

At least 112 bloggers and activists are serving prison sentences in Vietnam for exercising their rights to the basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and religion, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in January.

Editing by Clarence Fernandez