Bangkok, March 23, 2017--The Committee to Protect Journalists called today on Vietnam to immediately and unconditionally release bloggers Phan Kim Khanh and Bui Hieu Vo.
The government announced on its official Facebook page yesterday that both had been detained on charges of "propagandizing against the state," which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison under Article 88 of the penal code, according to news reports.
Khanh was arrested on March 21 in the Cam Khe district of the northern Phu Tho province, where he lives, according to news reports. The government statement said that Khanh had posted "fabricated and distorted" information against Vietnam on two blogs, three Facebook pages, and two YouTube channels, reports said.
Khanh established and managed two pro-democracy news websites, Vietnam Weekly and Anticorruption Newspaper, according to reports. Vietnam Right Now, an independent news website, reported that Khanh had recently posted allegations of official corruption on one of his blogs.
Vo, known as "Hieu Bui" on his Facebook page, was arrested on March 17 in the Go Vap district of Ho Chi Minh City, the commercial capital, reports said. The government claimed Vo had "fabricated [and] distorted...information" against the government, including incitement to violence against leaders of the ruling Communist Party, the state, and police. Many dissident Vietnamese bloggers use Facebook as a platform in an effort to circumvent censorship.
The government statement also claimed both bloggers were affiliated with the pro-democracy Viet Tan, an outlawed political party the government considers a terrorist group.
"We call on Vietnam to release bloggers Phan Kim Khanh and Bui Hieu Vo and to drop any charges against them," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "If Vietnam wants to be considered a responsible member of the international community, it should stop treating journalists as criminals and punishing criticism as a crime against the state."
The bloggers' arrest comes amid rising government pressure on social media platforms to censor content deemed as critical of the government.
Authorities have over the past month called on Vietnamese companies and international companies with operations in Vietnam to stop advertising on Facebook, YouTube, and other social media sites until they remove "toxic" information and criticism of the government published mainly by diaspora Vietnamese dissidents, according to news reports.