Tan said that she had been informed of Hai’s hunger strike after she had gone to see him at the No. 6 Prison in Nghe An province in Vietnam’s north central coast but was refused permission to meet with him.
In recent weeks, a number of Vietnamese political prisoners have held hunger strikes to protest harsh conditions in jail, including prominent dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu and Catholic activist Tran Minh Nhat.
Tan said that she learned of Hai’s hunger strike after receiving a phone call from Nguyen Thi Nga, the wife of Nguyen Xuan Nghia, who is a fellow inmate of Hai’s. Nga had been to see her husband earlier that day.
“After the meeting, which lasted about 30 minutes and was under police monitor … [Nghia] told her that Hai has been on a hunger strike for 25 days,” she said.
“After he said that, the police gagged [Nghia’s] mouth and took him away.”
Tan said that Nga was held briefly while prison authorities drew up a document saying that she had violated the law for speaking with her husband about Hai.
“Everything happened so fast and [Nga] was shocked to hear that Hai was on a hunger strike for 25 days,” she said.
Nga did not know why Hai had decided to fast, or whether he had been force fed by authorities or was taking water.
According to Tan, Hai had gone on a hunger strike for 29 days in 2011 as well.
Tan and the couple’s son Nguyen Tri Dung had earlier on Wednesday been refused permission to see Hai at Prison No. 6 by authorities who told them he was “being disciplined for disturbing order” in the facility.
“They let me in [to the office], but told me that he was being disciplined and during this time he would not be allowed to see family members,” she said.
“I asked them about the reason for the discipline and the starting date. They said he ‘disturbed prison order’ and was being disciplined for a week.”
Tan, who is from Ho Chi Minh City, then told her son to find a place to stay until Saturday—the next time they could visit Hai.
“But [the authorities] said they were not sure [if we could see him then]. This time definitely not, but they were not sure about next time either,” she said.
Hai, who suffers from health problems, has been held at 10 different prison camps since his arrest in October 2008 and his case has been “adopted” by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. His family has complained that he has not received sufficient medical treatment while incarcerated.
An outspoken blogger who co-founded the “Free Journalists Club Website,” Hai was first detained after participating in anti-China protests ahead of the Beijing Olympics and served 30 months in jail on tax evasion charges critics have said were trumped up.
Upon his scheduled release in 2010, he was immediately rearrested on “antigovernment propaganda” charges for hundreds of articles he had written online along with two other members of the website.
The three were convicted under Article 88 of the country’s criminal code, a controversial provision rights groups say the government has used to silence online dissent.
Hai’s case has been raised by U.S. President Barack Obama, who said in May last year “we must not forget [journalists] like blogger Dieu Cay, whose 2008 arrest coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam.”