Bangkok, April 11, 2022 – Vietnamese authorities should drop all requirements that journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy attend mandatory “re-education” classes, let him work freely, and stop using arbitrary anti-state laws to harass and detain journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.
On April 7, the People’s Court of Quang Tri sentenced Thy to one year of “non-custodial re-education” for allegedly defaming state leaders on social media, according to news reports. That sentence allows Thy to live outside of a prison, but under state supervision that requires him to attend classes on local laws and regulations for the duration of his sentence, according to reports.
The ruling, handed down after five days of deliberations, cited 79 posts allegedly published by Thy and Le Anh Dung, a local businessman, on the Facebook pages Hoang Le, Quang Tri 357, and QUANG TRI 357 between April 2020 and February 2021, according to those reports, which said the posts infringed on the “reputation, honor and dignity” of provincial leaders.
Dung was sentenced to 18 months of the same punishment, those reports said.
“It is Vietnamese authorities, not journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy, who need a ‘re-education’ on the importance of a free press in a just, fair, and democratic society,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnam must immediately stop punishing and jailing journalists on spurious anti-state charges.”
Thy, the bureau chief of the state-run Giao Duc Va Thoi Dai (Age and Education) news magazine, was first detained on February 10, 2021, in Vietnam’s central Quang Tri province, as CPJ documented at the time.
At the time, CPJ was able to review the page Quang Tri 357, which had about 2,300 followers and featured posts accusing Quang Tri provincial leaders of misusing funds meant for local infrastructure and property projects. The Facebook pages allegedly linked to Thy and Dung have since been taken down or set to private.
Thy was held in pretrial detention until his conviction under Article 331 of Vietnam’s penal code, an anti-state provision that bans “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe on the legal interests of the state, organizations, and individuals,” according to those news reports.
CPJ emailed the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security and called the Quang Tri People’s Court for comment, but did not receive any replies.
Vietnam is among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, with at least 23 members of the press, including Thy, behind bars for their work at the time of CPJ’s 2021 prison census.