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Vietnam arrests investigative journalist

Crackdown on bloggers and activists continues

AFP Hanoi and reporters

August 16, 2013

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Vietnam has arrested a prize-winning investigative journalist who made his name exposing corruption in the communist country.

State media reported yesterday that Vo Thanh Tung, 31, was detained on Wednesday after allegedly being caught receiving cash from a bar owner in southern Bien Hoa city.

Police detained Tung, who who works for Ho Chi Minh City's Law newspaper and is known for his investigative work, most recently on the entertainment industry. After a search of his house, "a baton, a taser, handcuffs, computers, cameras and documents" were taken away, the report said.

Two of Tung's stringers who had worked on his investigative reports, were also arrested, it added.

Tung, who goes by the pen name Duy Dong, has written many acclaimed investigative pieces and his series uncovering bribery of traffic police by truck and bus drivers won a prize at the Ho Chi Minh City press awards in June.

Ho Chi Minh City's Law newspaper confirmed its reporter had been held in a brief news item, but did not give further details.

Communist Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run.

Some journalists working at state-run media have become increasingly tenacious in their reporting in recent years, but face constant pressure from authorities and often risk prosecution if they push too hard.

In September last year, a crusading anti-corruption journalist with the Tuoi Tre newspaper was jailed for four years for bribing police during an undercover investigation into graft in a case that prompted a public outcry.

In 2008, a reporter was jailed for two years after exposing corruption in the country's transport ministry.

The high-profile prosecution sent a chill through the ranks of the country's journalists and prompted condemnation from international media watchdogs.

 Vietnam, branded an "enemy of the internet" by Reporters Without Borders, ranks among the worst countries in the world on press freedom.

 Watchdogs say dozens of journalists and bloggers are currently being held in Vietnamese jails.

 So far this year, 46 activists have been convicted of anti-state activity and sentenced to often lengthy jail terms under what rights groups say are vaguely defined articles of the penal code.

Two of these, Nguyen Phuong Uyen, 21, and Dinh Nguyen Kha, 25, will today hear an appeal over their sentencing earlier this year to six and eight years respectively for distributing leaflets critical of the government.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, described the case as a “scathing indictment of everything that is wrong with human rights in Vietnam.”

“It reveals a rights repressing government determined to gag its own citizens, a lapdog judiciary eager to do the bidding of its political masters, and scores of ‘national security’ laws that can be used to criminalize any exercise of civil or political rights.”

He said that the ongoing persecution of activists mean that Vietnam was unqualified to continue its bid for candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council.

The country has also recently revealed a sweeping new internet law which will ban bloggers and social media users from sharing news stories online, in a move seen as a further crackdown on online freedom in the authoritarian country.

The United States said it was "deeply concerned" about the decree. At least three bloggers were taken into custody in June alone, all accused of anti-state activity.

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