Dissident locked in home over protest

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Vietnam dissident musician Mai Khoi, also known as the 'Lady Gaga' of Vietnam, holds up a banner reading "Piss on you Trump" in Hanoi. AFP

HANOI (AFP) – A dissident musician dubbed the ‘Lady Gaga’ of Vietnam was locked in her home by plainclothes police on Saturday after she flashed a sign reading “Piss on you Trump” as the US president arrived in town for a state visit.

Mai Khoi, who met with former president Barack Obama on his trip to Vietnam last year to talk about the country’s dismal rights record, has long called for the communist government to ease its heavy restrictions on expression and political participation in her music.

The one-party state routinely jails its critics and is accused of waging a crackdown on dissidents in the months leading up to Mr Trump’s visit to Vietnam, which included an Apec leaders’ meeting in Danang and a stopover in Hanoi.

On Saturday, Mai Khoi held up a banner reading “Piss on you Trump” as the president’s motorcade rolled through town.

Several plainclothes police escorted her to her home and locked her inside for several hours.

One scuffled with a documentary filmmaker who has been following the singer.

“I just want to practise my right to express myself, to the protest because I don’t agree with what Trump says and what Trump is doing now,” Mai Khoi said from behind locked gates at her home.

Mr Trump’s administration has been accused of prioritising business ties over rights issues with its allies.

Her plainclothes escorts had left her house by late on Saturday, but she said she was too nervous to leave home. “I am very worried about being arrested at any moment,” she said.

The 34-year-old musician was barred from running for Vietnam’s rubber stamp parliament last year, and routinely faces harassment from authorities. Underground concerts with her band Mai Khoi and the Dissidents have been shut down, and she is not allowed to sell her music legally in the country. Vietnam’s rights record has nosedived since a new conservative leadership came into power last year.

Analysts also say Mr Trump’s muted criticism of Vietnam’s rights record have allowed the crackdown to go unchecked.

Since the beginning of the year, at least 15 people have been arrested and several hefty jail sentences handed down, including dissident blogger Mother Mushroom who was jailed for 10 years. Human Rights Watch said authorities have become more aggressive in recent months, deploying plainclothes police to assault dissidents.

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