Vietnam’s first trial against independent journalists in 2021: 37 years in prisonPublished: Jan 8, 2021 Reading time: 3 minutes
Only a few weeks before the National Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party which determines the country’s leaders for the next 5 years, Vietnam sentenced 3 independent journalists to a total of 37 years in prison on charges of “anti-state propaganda”.
On January 05 2021, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh city sentenced Mr. Pham Chi Dung, president of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), to 15 years in prison and 3 years of house arrest. Two other key members of the IJAVN, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy (vice-president) and Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan (editor) each received 11 years of imprisonment and 03 years of house arrest. In addition to these harsh sentences, the Court demanded full confiscation of Mr. Pham, Mr. Nguyen and Mr. Le’s salaries for their membership in the IJAVN.
According to official news, Mr. Pham Chi Dung established the IJAVN and its online news channel “Vietnam Times” to slander policies of the Vietnamese Communist Party. The same news article cited Mr. Pham’s contacts and interviews with foreign media with an aim to change Vietnam’s current political regime into a pluralist republic with separation of powers.
According to the same article, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan authored 25, 5, and 6 articles respectively that fall into the broad category of “containing distorted information about the people’s government” sanctioned by Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code.
The IJAVN was founded in July 2014 to promote media freedom and democracy. Its members, all independent writers and bloggers, have contributed commentary pieces to its website Viet Nam Thoi Bao (Vietnam Times), supported political prisoners and fellow activists, and attended human rights-related events. Its thousands of articles cover issues such as corruption, environmental pollution, the ongoing sea dispute between Vietnam and China, and other socio-economic problems.
Article 117 has long been criticized by international human rights organizations for its sweeping scope against free writers, journalists, and bloggers.
Some other well-known cases related to Article 117 include those of dissident blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as “Mother Mushroom), land rights activists Trinh Ba Phuong, Trinh Ba Tu, Can Thi Theu and Nguyen Thi Tam – all awaiting trials supposedly for their active coverage of the Dong Tam land dispute, and writer, journalist and Homo Homini award laureate Pham Doan Trang.
For its widespread use of prison sentences against press freedom, the international human rights organization Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 175th out of 180 countries in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. In early December 2020, the RSF listed Vietnam among the countries which imprison the most journalists, holding 28 journalists and Facebook users behind bars.