Bangkok, September 19, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today strongly condemned the sentencing of Vietnamese journalist Do Cong Duong and called for his immediate and unconditional release. A court in the northern province of Bac Ninh sentenced Duong on September 17 to four years in prison for disturbing public order, which is a criminal offense under article 318 of the penal code, Radio Free Asia reported.
"If Vietnam wants to be taken seriously as a responsible international actor, it must stop jailing journalists," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Do Cong Duong should be released and all pending charges against the journalist should be dropped."
Duong was detained on January 24 while filming and taking photographs of state authorities forcibly evicting residents at the Tu Son commune in Bac Ninh, reports said. Official land-grabbing is a politically sensitive issue in the Communist Party-dominated country.
Duong faces a separate charge of "abusing democratic freedoms" to infringe on the interests of the state, a criminal offense that carries maximum seven year prison sentences under article 331 of the revised 2015 penal code, according to the 88 Project, an advocacy group that tracks Vietnamese political prisoners. The group said that Duong is due to go on trial for that charge in October.
Duong's lawyer, Ha Huy Son, said that the journalist pleaded innocent and that his family planned to appeal, the Radio Free Asia report said.
Duong regularly covers land rights and corruption, including on his "Tieng Dan TV" program where he live-streamed video discussions over Facebook, according to the 88 Project.
The group said Duong was warned by Bac Ninh police in writing in September 2017 that his articles and live videos on Facebook included content that "distorts the truth" and "contradicts the directions and policies of the Party and the law of the state."
Duong's defense attorney said the reporter was in poor health when they met in April and that authorities, including the local police, had harassed his family over Duong's land rights and anti-corruption reporting and activism, according to the RFA report and 88 Project research.
At least 10 journalists were held behind bars in Vietnam when CPJ conducted its annual census of jailed journalists worldwide in December 2017. All 10 were jailed on anti-state charges related to their work, CPJ research shows.