Journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy (left), Pham Chi Dung (right), and Le Huu Minh Tuan (back) are seen at a courthouse in Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam, on January 5, 2021. The three were each sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. (Vietnam News Agency/AFP)

Vietnam sentences 3 independent journalists to more than 10 years in prison

Bangkok, January 5, 2021 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today strongly condemned the convictions and harsh prison sentences handed down to Vietnamese journalists Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan, and called for their immediate and unconditional releases.

Today, the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court convicted the three journalists under an anti-state provision that bans the production and dissemination of “distorted information about the people’s government,” and sentenced them to prison terms exceeding 10 years, according to news reports.

The court sentenced Dung, the founding chairman of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam and a freelance columnist, to 15 years in prison, and Tuan and Thuy, both journalists and members of the association, to 11 years each, according to those reports.

All three will face three years of house arrest after their release from prison, reports said.

The Ministry of Public Security did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on the convictions. CPJ could not immediately determine whether any or all of the journalists would file appeals.

“Vietnam’s outrageous sentencing of journalists Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh to more than a decade in prison each shows that the country’s government has no intention of allowing even the most basic elements of a free press,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities should allow the three to appeal these brutal sentences, and ensure that journalists and press freedom advocates can work freely.”

The Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam is a civil society organization of more than 70 local journalists that advocates for press freedom, according to its website.

Dung, who founded the association, also works as a contributor to international outlets including the BBC and U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America, as well as the local independent blogs Dan Luan and Dan Lam Bao; he was initially detained on November 21, 2019, as CPJ documented at the time.

Authorities detained Thuy, a reporter with the U.S. broadcaster Radio Free Asia and the vice president of the journalists’ association, in Hanoi on May 23, 2020, and detained Tuan, a freelance journalist who published on the association’s official news website, on June 12, according to CPJ research.

The Ministry of Public Security said in a statement the three wrote stories to “distort and defame the people’s administration, infringe the interests of the Communist Party of Vietnam and state,” according to reports.

CPJ’s latest prison census found that Vietnam held at least 15 journalists behind bars for their work as of December 1, including Dung, Thuy, and Tuan, making it the second-worst jailer in Asia, behind China.