(New York) – The Vietnamese government should release and drop all charges against two prominent bloggers, Human Rights Watch said today. The trial of Nguyen Huu Vinh and his colleague Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy is scheduled for March 23, 2016, before the People’s Court of Hanoi.

The two have been charged under article 258 of the penal code for “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.” They have been in custody since May 2014. Their trial was originally scheduled for January 19, but was postponed on the eve of the Vietnam Communist Party’s Congress, held every five years.

“The bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy have been detained for almost two years simply for criticizing the Vietnam Communist Party and its leadership, even though the government has ratified international human rights law that unequivocally protects their actions,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The authorities should immediately free the bloggers and compensate each for this unjust detention.”

Nguyen Huu Vinh (also known as Anh Ba Sam), a former police officer and party member, started the blog Ba Sam in 2007, aiming to educate Vietnamese readers by providing links to news from a variety of perspectives. Most links are from state media. The blog published articles and commentaries on Vietnamese political, social, economic, and cultural issues. It also published translations of English and French language articles and excerpts from books.

During the six years it published, until the arrests of the two men, Ba Sam had attracted several million readers inside and outside Vietnam. According to the indictment, one blog on the site, Dan Quyen (“Rights of Citizens,” founded in September 2013), “published 2014 pieces of writing, received 38,574 comments and got 3,243,330 access hits.” It also said that another blog, Chep Su Viet (“Writing Vietnamese History,” founded in January 2014), “published 383 pieces, received 3,401 comments and got 480,353 access hits.”

The indictment listed 12 articles published on Dan Quyen and 12 on Chep Su Viet that have “untruthful and baseless content; distort the lines and policies of the Party and the law of the State; vilify a number of individuals and affect the prestige of offices and organizations; present a one-side and pessimistic view, causing anxiety and worry, and affecting the people’s confidence in the leadership of the Party, the Government, the National Assembly, and the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

One of the 24 articles is “A Tale for 2000, a novel about human life under communist cruelty” (“Chuyen ke nam 2000: Cuon tieu thuyet ve than phan con nguoi trong cai ac cong san”), written by a former communist party member, Pham Dinh Trong. The article criticizes the communist government for its history of arbitrary and brutal imprisonment of dissenting voices from the 1960s to the present. It says that, “It [the communist party] cannot imprison the truth and righteousness. It cannot imprison one’s soul, mind, and nerve.”

Another article singled out in the indictment is, “The trial of Truong Duy Nhat, where will the victims sneak to” (“Toa xu Truong Duy Nhat, cac bi hai se lui ve dau”), by an anonymous writer. The article predicts that during the trial of another prominent blogger, Truong Duy Nhat, in March 2014, none of the so-called victims of Truong Duy Nhat’s blogging, including the communist party’s general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, would be present. It maintains that, “Domestic and international observers have an opportunity to understand the internal affairs of the Vietnamese communist leadership and to measure its human rights promises after it had won a seat in the UN Human Rights Council and prior to the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).”

Another article singled out in the indictment is, “The little Emperor Hoang Kong Tu vs. Vietnamese BBC” (“‘Ong troi con’ Hoang Kong Tu vs. BBC Viet ngu”), by the prominent bloggers Pham Doan Trang, Trinh Huu Long, and Nguyen Anh Tuan. The article says that a police general, Hoang Kong Tu, was “behaving like a little Emperor” because he threatened to bring charges against an author on the BBC Vietnamese service who wrote about a big corruption case in Vietnam.

State media reported that Public Security Ministry officials, including an unnamed vice minister, tried to persuade Nguyen Huu Vinh to stop posting articles that “oppose the Party and the State,” but to no avail.

Nguyen Huu Vinh’s wife, Le Thi Minh Ha, says that his health has deteriorated significantly in detention. During a visit in October 2015, her husband told her that there were red spots all over his body. She made an urgent request to various government officials, including President Truong Tan Sang; the People’s Supreme Court Chief Judge, Truong Hoa Binh; and the People’s Supreme Procuracy Chief Prosecutor, Nguyen Hoa Binh, asking them to allow Nguyen Huu Vinh to have access to adequate medical treatment. Le Thi Minh Ha also filed multiple petitions to the authorities protesting the arbitrary arrest of her husband, but her petitions were ignored.

Vietnam is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which protects peaceful expression, including expression critical of governments and leaders. But Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy are not the only bloggers detained for expressing views disapproved by the authorities.

“Vietnam’s friends and donors should publicly challenge the ludicrous charges against Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh,” Adams said. “They should demand that the government free all political prisoners and drop all pending charges against dissenting voices.”