Detained journalists and bloggers Tran Duc Thach, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, Pham Thanh and Pham Chi Dung. (Photo courtesy of Mai Pham)
International and domestic rights groups have urged Vietnam’s communist government to respect press freedom and release independent journalists. Police arrested well-known dissident senior bloggers Pham Thanh and Nguyen Tuong Thuy on May 21 and 23 respectively and charged them with making and spreading anti-state material under Article 117 of the criminal code. Convictions under this article carry jail terms of up to 20 years. On May 27, the US Agency for Global Media described Vietnam’s unveiled attempt to silence critics “reprehensible” and called for it to be reversed. “The widespread crackdown on free speech in Vietnam is a blatant attack on the human rights of Vietnamese citizens and on press freedom,” the agency’s CEO Grant Turner said in a May 27 statement. Turner said Thuy, who has contributed commentaries for six years to Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese Service, is the fourth contributor to the agency’s public service media network to be jailed in the communist country.
Two other contributors to the US Congress-funded broadcaster include Truong Duy Nhat and Nguyen Van Hoa, who are serving sentences of 10 and seven years in prisons respectively. Le Anh Hung, who worked for the Voice of America, was arrested and could face up to seven years in prison for criticizing the government. Turner said Vietnam currently holds more than two dozen journalists and bloggers behind bars. “I call for the immediate and safe release of all four USAGM network contributors currently held by Vietnamese authorities,” he said. Earlier Daniel Bastard, Asia-Pacific desk head at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said the arrests of Thanh and Thuy “send an extremely chilling message to all those trying to maintain a public debate in Vietnam.” He said the arrests of the senior journalists, both respected former Communist Party members who have become withering critics of the party’s ossification, “speak volumes about the feverishness at the head of the party as it prepares for its 21st five-yearly congress in six months’ time.” Thanh and Thuy, both 68, work for the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, which tries to promote public debates in the Southeast Asian country. Thuy acts as vice-president of the association founded in 2014. The unsanctioned independent press group’s president, Pham Chi Dung, who was included in RSF’s list of “information heroes” five years ago, was arrested last November. The Vietnam Human Rights Network and Defend the Defenders, both working for the improvement of human rights in Vietnam, urged the government to drop the charges and immediately release Dung, Thanh and Thuy and hundreds of prisoners of conscience who are jailed for exercising their basic rights peacefully. They said the detainees did not violate the country’s constitution when they frankly condemned the authorities for corruption and mismanagement. Vietnam has long been near the bottom of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Index.
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