Bangkok, May 26, 2020 — Vietnam should immediately release journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Pham Chi Thanh, and drop all charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On May 21, authorities arrested Thanh, a freelance journalist who blogs under the pseudonym Pham Thanh, at his home in Hanoi, and charged him under Article 117 of the country’s criminal code, a provision that criminalizes “opposing the state,” according to news reports.
On May 23, Hanoi police arrested Thuy, a reporter with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia, and charged him with “making, storing and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes,” another violation under Article 117, according to RFA.
Convictions under Article 117 carry jail terms of up to 20 years. Both journalists are members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, a local unsanctioned independent press group, where Thuy acts as vice president, according to those news reports, RFA, and a representative from the journalists’ association, who asked to remain anonymous, citing security concerns.
The representative said that Thuy was transported from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City on the same day of his arrest and is being held there in pre-trial detention. Thanh is detained in Hanoi, the representative said.
“Journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Pham Chi Thanh should be immediately released and all pending charges against them dropped,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnam must stop treating independent journalists as enemies of the state, and must allow the press to work freely and without fear of trumped-up charges and prison time.”
Radio Free Asia said in a statement that Thuy’s arrest was “intended to silence free speech and reinforces the need for independent journalism in Vietnam.” Thuy has contributed commentary to RFA for six years, the statement said.
On his blog, Thanh frequently writes about civil rights and freedom of speech, according to Rohit Mahajan, RFA’s vice president of communications, who communicated with CPJ by email.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment filed through its website.
In November, as CPJ documented at the time, authorities arrested and detained Pham Chi Dung, founder of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, and charged him under Article 117. According to the association representative, Dung is being held in a Ho Chi Minh City detention facility awaiting trial and has not been allowed to visit his wife or lawyers since his arrest.
The Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam was among 192 partner organizations that signed CPJ’s May 5 letter calling on the United Nations to take action secure the release of journalists worldwide in sight of the heightened health risks posed to prison populations by COVID-19.