Vietnam to Try Three Independent Journalists for “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda” on January 5, Lengthy Imprisonments Expected
Defend the Defenders, December 18, 2020
The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City has decided to hold the first-instance hearing on January 5 to try three members of the unregistered professional group Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), Dr. Pham Chi Dung, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan on the charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Clause 2 of Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.
According to the decision dated December 15, the trial will be open and held at the headquarters of the People’s Court of HCM City. Two lawyers Nguyen Van Mieng and Dang Dinh Manh will provide legal assistance for the trio while some their relatives and some HCM City-based activists are invited to the hearing as witnesses.
According to the current Vietnamese law, the trio are facing imprisonment of between seven and 12 years, even 20 years if they are convicted.
Dr. Dung, 54, is co-founder and incumbent president of IJAVN while Mr. Thuy, 70, is its vice president. Mr. Tuan, 31, is said to be an editor of the organization’s website vietnamthoibao.org.
Mr. Dung was arrested on November 21 last year while Mr. Thuy was detained on May 23 this year and Mr. Tuan was taken into police custody one month later. The trio was held incommunicado since their detention and their families have been allowed to provide additional food and basic stuff only. One month ago, they were allowed to meet with their lawyers for the first time to prepare for their defense.
The arrest and prosecution of the three members of the IJAVN is a part of the Vietnamese communist regime’s ongoing crackdown on local dissent which has intensified since late 2015. Hundreds of activists have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted with heavy sentences under controversial articles in the National Security provisions of the Criminal Code, which the international community has called on Vietnam to remove as they have been used to silence the local activists.
The IJAVN was established in 2014 to fight for freedom of the press in Vietnam where the communist regime has tight control over the official media. Thousands of articles of independent journalists covering the country’s issues such as human rights violations, systemic corruption, widespread environmental pollution, the government’s weak response to China’s violation of the country’s sovereignty in the East Sea (South China Sea), and other socio-economic problems have been posted on the organization’s website vietnamthoibao.org. The three journalists have a number of articles criticizing the communist government for failing to properly address the country’s issues as well as giving interviews to foreign media.
Vietnam’s security forces have also harassed and intimidated other members of the IJAVN in recent years. A number of its members in Hanoi, HCM City, and other localities have been summoned for interrogation for their membership in the organization and their writing. Police have also blocked them from gathering or meeting with foreign guests or diplomats since the organization’s establishment while its website is regularly attacked and still placed under a firewall for the local readers.
Since their arrests, the EU, the US and other foreign governments as well the international community including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Defend the Defenders and local activists have called on the Vietnamese regime to free the three activists immediately and unconditionally and drop the charges against them.
Ruled by the Vietnamese Communist Party for decades, Vietnam is listed at the bottom of the RSF’s Freedom Press Index for many years, ranked at 178th among 180 countries in 2020. In early December, the CPJ and RSF listed Vietnam among global biggest prisons for journalists, holding 28 journalists and Facebookers behind bar. On December 16, authorities in the Mekong Delta hub Can Tho arrested well-known independent journalist and famouse Facebooker with 168,000 followers Truong Chau Huu Danh on the allegation of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code with highest imprisonment of seven years.
Currently, Vietnam is holding at least 251 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Among them, 47 bloggers and activists have been arrested or convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the Penal Code 1999 or Article 117 of the Criminal Code 2015. Among them is prominent human rights defender and well-known political blogger Pham Doan Trang.
In July this year, the People’s Court of Hanoi convicted democracy campaigner Nguyen Trung Linh of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 and sentenced him to 12 years in prison, the toughest sentence given for the charge so far.
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