Nguyen Tan Dung
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung adjusts his headphones during the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Bangkok (Reuters) Reuters

An arrest warrant carrying the threat of a long jail sentence for the people behind three dissident blogs in Vietnam has been issued but bloggers Dan Lam Bao (not his real name) and Tran Hung Quoc said they would not give up - no matter what the government threw at them.

"We have no choice. Twenty years in jail to reclaim our rights as human beings is a price we are willing to pay if that is what it takes," said Dan.

A string of similar cases has already resulted in the death of the mother of one blogger, who set herself on fire in protest at the detention of her daughter in August. Dang Thi Kim Lieng, 64, died on the way to hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.

Her daughter, Ta Phong Tan, a former police officer who wrote a blog on social issues, was arrested in September 2011 on charges of propaganda against the state.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has turned up the pressure on bloggers and ordered police to crack down. He specifically targeted Dan Lam Bao, Quan Lam Bao and Bien Dong.

Nguyen said the bloggers should be seriously punished. "They slandered the country's leadership, fabricated and distorted information, agitated against the party and the state, and caused suspicion and mistrust in society," he said.

According to Enemies of the Internet by international watchdog Reporters Without Borders, Vietnam is the second worst country in the world for internet freedom, just behind China.

Arbitrary detention

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of "arbitrarily" detaining dozens of netizens "because of their work as citizen journalists, environmental advocates, anti-corruption crusaders and human rights defenders."

If arrested the bloggers working with Dan Lam Bao (People Doing Journalism), Quan Lam Bao (Officials Doing Journalism) and Bien Dong could add to the growing number behind bars.

Bloggers claim that the government is responsible for even more sinister methods to shut them up. "Policemen close to the PM made death threats to us," said Tran Hung Quoc, editor of Quan Lam Bao.

"[Authorithies] summon bloggers - especially those who are well-known - for interrogation and then threaten them to set an example and intimidate those who may be thinking of supporting the free movement of independent media or joining our independent blogging community," added blogger Dan Lan Bao, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons.

The Communist party, which has run the country since the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-70s, finding it harder to control the voices of dissent that are fast spreading across the web.

A report by market research company Cimigo revealed that Vietnam has the fastest growing internet population in southeast Asia. One in three Vietnamese has access to the internet.

Of the three target sites, Dan Lam Bao publishes mainly political articles. Quan Lam Bao has a more sensationalist approach to political news and often targets the PM and his private life. Bien Dong is dedicated to Vietnam's long-standing quarrel with China over territory in the South China Sea.

Before the arrest warrants were issued, the government, whose censorship firewall was easy to breach, said experts, used cyber attacks against dissident blogs.

"We have been attacked continuously through IT technology since a week after we were born," said Tran.

"Authorities employ various means such as DDoS [distributed denial of service attacks], viruses, firewalls and spyware," said Dan.

The campaign against them has backfired, however, and since the arrest warrants were issed, the audience for the three blogs rocketed.

"Thanks to the prime minister's care, we have had more than 1.5 millions views. He elevated us from being an unofficial source to the status of bright star in the web firmament," said.

Prepared to face repression

Dan Lan Bao's daily number of visitors doubled to 500,000 on the day the warrants werer issued, the bloggers claimed.

"[We] are prepared to face repression and imprisonment rather than lead the life of a dumb muzzled dog that dares not to bark and remains subservient to those who abuse their power," was one comment posted on the Dan Lan Bao page.

"No one can stop us fighting against the corrupt organisations that rule our country," echoed Tran.

They urged Western governments to help their campaign.

"No one can win a battle alone. We need the West to do more and more to help freedom of speech in Vietnam," said Tran.

"This government does not care about how much suffering it inflicts on our people but it does care much about foreign investments, economic deals and trade with third countries. Possible diplomatic and economic sanctions imposed by the West for human rights' violations are a big deal to authorities," Dan said.

The crackdown on the blogs might be a consequence of the stock market tumble that followed the arrest of tycoon Nguyen Duc Kien, the founder of one of Vietnam's largest banks, said observers.

Kien was arrested in August for suspected economic violations.

Dan Lan Bao had speculated that Kien's detention was not due to financial wrongdoings but because he fell victim to a power struggle at the top of government.

The prime minister is reportedly at odds with President Truong Tan Sang and the PM's daughter is said to be close to the arrested banker.

"The prime minister's order against us is a sign of victory for our struggle for free expression and independent media as we must have been touching the right spots to trigger this reprisal," said Dan.

Tran added: "If we have to die for a better Vietnam, we would be ready for it."