Vietnam Convicts Three Independent Journalists for “Conducting Anti-state Propaganda,” Sentencing Them to Total 37 Years in Prison
Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy (left), Pham Chi Dung (right) and Le Huu Minh Tuan (back) at the hearing on Jan 5
Defend the Defenders, January 5, 2021
On January 5, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City convicted 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.
The court sentenced them to a total 37 years in prison. Particularly, Mr. Dung was sentenced to 15 years in prison and the two remaining were given 11 years in prison each. In addition, each of them was given three years of probation and forced to pay a large sum of administrative fines, said Mrs. Pham Thi Lan, the wife of Mr. Thuy.
The sentence given to Dr. Dung is the highest for the charge. Last year, Mr. Nguyen Trung Linh was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the same charge.
The hearing lasted shortly, from early morning to early afternoon of Tuesday. Only one family member of each defendant was permitted to enter the courtroom. It was likely that diplomatic representatives from the Us and the EU were allowed to monitor the hearing inside the courtroom.
Numerous activists from Hanoi and HCM City reported that they were placed under house arrest on Tuesday and several days prior to the hearing as the local authorities want to prevent them from gathering near the court areas.
Dr. Dung, 54, is co-founder and incumbent president of IJAVN while Mr. Thuy, 70, is its vice president. Mr. Tuan, 31, is among youngest members of the organization.
Mr. Dung was arrested on November 21, 2019 while Mr. Thuy was detained on May 23 last 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. In its press release on January 4, HRW also urged Vietnam to release the trio.
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 175th 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 famous 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 258 prisoners of conscience, according to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics. Among them, 49 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.
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