New York, April 16, 2012–Vietnamese authorities have brought anti-government charges against three journalists who have languished in prison for several months, news reports said on Sunday.
The journalists, Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai, and Ta Phong Tan, were charged with anti-government propaganda concerning a total of 421 articles they had posted on their blogs that “denigrated the state,” Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday, citing state media. The charge carries a maximum jail term of 20 years, news reports said. The three journalists were also members of the Free Journalists Network of Vietnam, a press freedom group that Nguyen Van Hai helped found and which now operates from exile, CPJ research shows.
Nguyen Van Hai, also known as Nguyen Hoang Hai, wrote a political blog Dieu Cay (Peasant’s Pipe) and had reported on national protests against China as well as demonstrations against the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch relay, according to CPJ research. He was arrested in 2008 and served a 30-month sentence on politicized tax avoidance charges, but was kept in jail pending further investigation after the sentence concluded in 2010, according to CPJ research. In 2011, CPJ appealed for his urgent release after news reports said he had been seriously injured in prison.
Phan Thanh Hai, who wrote under the penname Anh Ba Saigon (Saigon Brother Three), was arrested in October 2010 under a provisional four-month arrest order, and held without charge ever since, according to CPJ research. He had reported on political issues on his blog including Vietnam’s relations with China, according to CPJ research. State media also accused Phan Thanh Hai and Nguyen Van Hai of attending a training course to overthrow the government, The Associated Press reported.
Ta Phong Tan, a former police officer who documented social injustice on her blog Conglysuthat (Justice and Truth), was arrested in September 2011, according to the France-based exile support group Vietnam Committee on Human Rights. It is unclear if formal charges were previously brought against her.
“Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai, and Ta Phong Tan have already been held for lengthy periods in open-ended detentions, and now they face vague charges based on articles the state deems unfavorable,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities should drop these charges and release them immediately.”
State media is tightly controlled in Vietnam, and the government has increasingly targeted online journalists who cover sensitive issues, according to CPJ research.