Vietnamese Facebooker Probed for “Abuse of Democratic Freedom” for Posting on COVID-19

Many Vietnamese areas are closed due to COVID-19

Defend the Defenders, April 10, 2020


Authorities in Ninh Kieu district in the Mekong Delta’s hub of Can Tho City have arrested a local female resident named Ma Phung Ngoc Phu and charged her with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code for her posts on Facebook regarding the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.

The state-controlled media reported that Ms. Phu, 28, was arrested on April 10. She will be held incommunicado for investigation and faces imprisonment of between two and seven years in prison if is convicted.

Citing the information from the Ninh Kieu district police, newspapers reported that Phu used her Facebook account James Nguyen to post a number of statuses regarding COVID-19 infection in the country and her locality.

She was accused of sharing 14 statuses from other Facebookers which are considered untrue or with content distorting the country’s leadership and senior officials.

Police said Phu has admitted her wrongdoings.

She is the first Facebooker facing imprisonment regarding online posts regarding the COVID-19 outbreak a few weeks after Vietnam’s Supreme People’s Procuracy asked procuracy agencies in provinces and districts to prosecute those who disseminate Coronavirus-related information incorrect or harmful for the regime.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in Vietnam and other countries, authorities in many Vietnamese localities have summoned hundreds of Facebookers for their posts regarding the disease and Vietnam’s response to the outbreak. According to media, around 400 of them have been fined between VND7.5 million ($320) and VND15 million after being requested to delete their questionable posts.

Meanwhile, on the same day, authorities in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong prosecuted Dinh Vinh Son and charged him with “Illegal provision or use of information on computer networks or telecommunications networks” under Article 288 of the Criminal Code. Accordingly, Son was accused of posting fake news on his Facebook account Ho Hoang Duy in a bid of revenging a guy named Ho Hoang Duy, with who he has quarrel.

Also regarding COVID-19, one citizen was imprisoned and two others were probed for the same allegation of “Resisting a law enforcement officer in the performance of his/her official duties” under Article 330 of the Penal Code. Specifically, they were said to cursing and attacking patrol teams after being warned of not wearing face masks while moving outside.

Dao Xuan Anh from the northern province of Quang Ninh was arrested on April 4 and on April 10 he was sentenced to nine months in jail. Two other guys, Tran Van Manh from Thai Binh and Vi Van Thai were arrested a few days ago and will be taken to a court soon as Vietnam’s authorities want to use their cases to threaten others.

Currently, Vietnam has more than 250 cases infected with Coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Health. Around 4,500 cases suspected and are held in medical facilities while tens of thousands of people are under quarantine in concentration camps across the nation.

Also according to the ministry, no casualty of COVID-19 has been reported although there have been a number of suspicious deaths in many localities in recent months.

However, activists and many experts said the figures provided by the ministry are not reliable given the fact that hundreds of Chinese citizens, including from Wuhan, the first epicenter of the disease, have been visited and freely moved across Vietnam since late 2019 when the first cases were reported in the Chinese province of Hubei.

Activists said Vietnam’s communist regime, like China’s regime, is undermining the figures of Coronavirus infection and praise the government’s efforts in dealing with the pandemic to raise the regime’s legitimacy. As a result, people are not believing in the government’s data and seek other sources on social networks, especially on Facebook which is the most popular in Vietnam with more than 40 million accounts.