Police roadblocks are seen in Hanoi, Vietnam, on August 22, 2021. A Vietnam court recently sentenced five journalists to prison terms for their work. (Reuters)

CPJ condemns harsh prison sentences handed to 5 journalists in Vietnam

Bangkok, November 1, 2021 – Vietnamese authorities should immediately release five journalists recently sentenced to prison terms for alleged anti-state crimes, and cease persecuting members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On October 28, a court in the southern city of Can Tho convicted Truong Chau Huu Danh, Doan Kien Giang, Le The Thang, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, and Nguyen Thanh Nha under Article 331 of the penal code, an anti-state provision that criminalizes “abusing democratic rights and freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state,” according to news reports.

The court sentenced Danh to four years and six months in prison; Giang and Thang to three years each; and Bao and Nha to two years each, those reports said.

The journalists all worked for Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper), a Facebook-based independent news outlet that the court ruled published distorted information and defamed the government, according to those reports and CPJ’s coverage. The Facebook page, which covered alleged government corruption and was deactivated following Danh’s arrest in December 2020, had more than 10,000 followers, as CPJ documented at the time.

“The sentencing of journalists Truong Chau Huu Danh, Doan Kien Giang, Le The Thang, Phuoc Trung Bao, and Nguyen Thanh Nha to years in prison is another gross assault on the free press in Vietnam,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities should allow the five to appeal their sentences, ensure they are released on appeal, and stop using bogus anti-state provisions to prosecute journalists.”

The October 28 ruling also banned all five from working as journalists for three years after serving their sentences, reports said.

CPJ emailed the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security for comment, but did not immediately receive any response. CPJ could not immediately determine whether any of the journalists planned to appeal their convictions.

CPJ’s latest prison census found that Vietnam held at least 15 journalists behind bars for their work as of December 1, 2020, making it the second-worst jailer in Asia.