HANOI  - Vietnam has arrested nine men said to be members of a “politically reactionary” organisation that was aiming to overthrow the country’s communist government, state media said Monday. Raids on a secret rural command centre in recent days led to the arrest of the group and its leader Phan Van Thu, alias Tran Cong, according to a senior police officer quoted by the VNA news agency. The men are being held and investigated for “abusing freedom and democratic rights to violate state interests”, Pham Van Hoa, director of central Phu Yen province police department, told reporters .

at an official press conference.

He said the organisation operated “non-violently” but aimed to topple the current administration.Rights groups say the accusation that a group is conspiring to overthrow the state is regularly used to silence dissidents in authoritarian Vietnam, where the communist party limits political debate.Phu Yen police raided the Da Bia command base Sunday “eliminating the central apparatus of this reactionary organisation”, and arresting Thu and five other men. Three others were arrested Monday.Police also confiscated hundreds of documents on the operational rules of the group, 19 detonators, 10 walkie talkies, two laptops, a camera and a video camera and tens of thousands of dollars and Vietnamese Dong, Hoa added.He said the group, called Hoi Dong Cong Luat Cong An Bia Son in Vietnamese, was set up in 1975 by Thu — who subsequently spent multiple spells in detention and under house arrest in the late 1970s and early 1980s.Thu, 64, who changed his name to Tran Cong following an escape from house arrest in 1984, set up a secret command base for his organisation in the Da Bia eco tourism park in Phu Yen province, Hoa said.From 2004 to 2011 Thu secretly built up the organisation, establishing a number of associations in cities and provinces across Vietnam and gathering more than 300 members, including overseas Vietnamese, Hoa said.