Vietnamese bloggers held for over 18 months in pre-trial detention

Bangkok, November 19, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on authorities in Vietnam to immediately release Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, who have been held in pre-trial detention since May 5, 2014 on anti-state charges over articles posted on their news site and aggregator Ba Sam and other blogging sites. Vinh’s health has declined in custody due to poor prison conditions, his wife, Le Thi Minh Ha, told CPJ via email.

“CPJ calls for the immediate and unconditional release of bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnam will never be viewed and treated as a responsible member of the international community as long as these types of arbitrary and abusive detentions continue and are justified under bogus anti-state provisions.”

Minh Ha said she visited Vinh on October 22 at the B-14 Detention Center in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. According to a petition and separate urgent request appeal for action that she filed with authorities requesting his release, Vinh has rashes on his legs, shoulders, back, and buttocks. The urgent request appeal said his condition was likely symptomatic of liver and blood disorders caused by a lack of exposure to natural sunlight.

Earlier this year, prison physician prescribed herbal medicine for Vinh, but the treatment was stopped after four days even though his symptoms persisted, according to Minh Ha. Her petition requested that Vinh be allowed hospital treatment and access to medicine. It also called on prison authorities to allow Vinh access to books, writing materials, and photographs of his family.

Authorities have so far failed to respond to any of the requests outlined in the petition for his release, Minh Ha told CPJ by email through a translator. She said Vinh was being held in a jail cell with a violent cellmate who frequently threatened him. She said she had not received any information on status or health of Thuy, who is being held at the same prison.

Vinh and Thuy were both charged with “abusing democratic freedoms to impinge on the interests of the state,” an anti-state offense under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code, in relation to 24 entries posted to the Ba Sam and other independent blog sites, according to reports. Convictions under the law carry a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Authorities have increasingly used the law to stifle criticism and persecute independent bloggers, according to CPJ research.  

Under Vietnamese criminal procedures, suspects for offenses deemed serious by authorities may be held for a maximum of 20 months while investigations are ongoing. Authorities have not set a trial date for Vinh’s and Thuy’s case which, under local law, must be held by January 5, 2016 or the suspects released, according to Minh Ha. Minh Ha’s petition challenged the legal basis of the anti-state charges, arguing that no individual or organization has stated or proven that the 24 articles in question had violated their rights or interests.  

At least three bloggers have been convicted under Article 258, CPJ research shows. Vietnam was holding at least 16 reporters behind bars, according to CPJ’s most recent prison census in December.