Bangkok, July 15, 2021 – Vietnamese authorities should release journalist Pham Chi Thanh immediately and unconditionally, and cease imprisoning members of the press for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On July 9, a Hanoi court sentenced Thanh, a journalist who blogs under the pseudonym Pham Thanh, to five years and six months in prison under Article 117 of the penal code, a provision that bars “making, storing, distributing or spreading” news or information against the state, news reports said.
Thanh’s lawyer, Ha Huy Son, was quoted in those reports saying that the trial was “inappropriate and unlawful,” and his client maintained his innocence. CPJ could not immediately determine whether Thanh planned to appeal the conviction.
“Vietnam’s cruel sentencing of journalist Pham Chi Thanh is the latest blight on the country’s abysmal press freedom record,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Thanh should be released immediately and unconditionally, and allowed to resume his work as a journalist without fear of reprisal.”
Authorities first arrested Thanh, a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, a local unsanctioned press group, on May 21, 2020, and held him in pre-trial detention at Hanoi’s Hoa Lo Prison, according to CPJ research.
The charges stemmed from over 100 articles Thanh posted on his personal blog and a book he self-published, which Hanoi People’s Procuracy prosecutors alleged included content “distorting and defaming the government,” local reports said.
Thanh’s health has suffered in detention, and he sustained an injury during a fall and suffers from headaches and difficulty breathing, according to a Facebook post by his wife, Nguyen Thi Nghiem.
CPJ emailed Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.
In January, Vietnam convicted and sentenced Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan, also members of the Independent Journalists Association, on similar charges, and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 11 to 15 years, with additional terms of house arrest upon release.
CPJ’s latest prison census found that Vietnam held at least 15 journalists behind bars for their work as of December 1, making it the second-worst jailer in Asia, trailing only China.