Vietnamese editor faces anti-state charges for reporting on corruption

Bangkok, May 13, 2015–Authorities in Vietnam today levied anti-state charges against a former news editor who published reports on official corruption, according to news reports. The accusations mark a trend of legal harassment against journalists who probe sensitive corruption issues in Vietnam, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

“We call on Vietnam to drop these spurious charges and allow for the media to play a checking and balancing role without fear of reprisal,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities would be wiser to address the well-documented corruption in their ranks than to persecute journalists who do a genuine public service by exposing official abuse of power.”

Kim Quoc Hoa, former editor-in-chief of the local-language, state-controlled print and online magazine The Elderly, was charged with “revealing confidential information related to national security” and “abusing freedoms and democratic rights in publishing articles that disseminated false information,” a criminal offense under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code, according to news reports. Convictions under Article 258 allow for up to seven years in prison. Police on Tuesday raided Hoa’s house in Hanoi, the capital, reports said. He is not in custody, and reports did not say when his trial would begin.

The Elderly had in recent months published several reports on official corruption, including one story about wealth amassed through alleged bribery by a former high-level government official, Radio Free Asia reported. Hoa told RFA in December 2014 that his publication had reported over 2,500 cases of official corruption since he took over the paper’s editorship in 2007, the report said.

In March, the Ministry of Information and Communications ordered Hoa to be removed from his position after an investigation revealed he had published 11 articles between 2013 and 2014 that alleged he “distorted facts and slandered individuals and organizations,” according to news reports. Authorities also shuttered The Elderly‘s website, accusing it of violating licensing and advertising regulations, the reports said.

The accusations against Hoa are consistent with previous media crackdowns driven by factional rivalries in the lead-up to sensitive Communist Party Congress meetings held every five years, news reports said. The next congress is scheduled to be held in January 2016.

Vietnam’s Communist Party-dominated government has increasingly used Article 258 to stifle criticism of its authoritarian rule, according to CPJ research. At least three bloggers have been convicted under the law’s punitive provisions, CPJ research shows. Vietnam was holding at least 16 reporters behind bars, according to CPJ’s most recent prison census in December.