Two journalists arrested while covering ecological disaster in Vietnam

Bangkok, May 4, 2015 – The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest of two journalists amid a wider crackdown on dissent in Vietnam.

Police on May 1 arrested Chu Manh Son, a reporter with the local Catholic news service Good News for the Poor, and Truong Minh Tam, a citizen journalist with the Vietnam Path Movement civil-society group, as they reported on a mysterious ecological disaster that has seen tons of fish wash up on the shores of the country’s central coastal region.

Tam and Son were arrested individually after traveling to affected areas to “interview local people, produce TV reports and post them on anti-state websites,” according to news reports citing state media. The reports did not indicate which particular news items or websites authorities deemed offensive.

Tam posted this report from an affected area in Ha Thinh province just hours before his arrest, according to Vietnam Right Now, an independent news website. Son was arrested while filming protests against a Taiwanese steel factory suspected of discharging toxic pollution into the ocean, according to Defend the Defenders, a Vietnamese rights group.

Tam was still jailed Wednesday, a Vietnamese journalist told CPJ, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The Ministry of Public Security refused to meet with a group of activists who sought information about his status today, the same source said. Son was released on May 3, according to news reports. It was not clear from reports whether either journalist was formally charged for their reporting. Authorities have targeted both Tam and Son for their activism in the past, according to Defend the Defenders.

“We call on authorities to immediately release journalist Truong Minh Tam, and to stop harassing independent reporters who cover news of national interest,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “It is disheartening to see that the government of newly appointed Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has already adopted the same shoot-the-messenger approach to the media as previous Communist Party-led regimes.”

In March, Vietnam sentenced three bloggers to harsh prison terms on anti-state charges for their reporting. Vietnam held at least six reporters behind bars when CPJ conducted its annual global census of imprisoned journalists on December 1, 2015.