Bangkok, September 16, 2022 – Vietnamese authorities should immediately and unconditionally release imprisoned blogger Le Anh Hung and stop harassing journalists on spurious anti-state charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On August 30, the Hanoi People’s Court convicted and sentenced Hung to five years in prison under Article 331 of the penal code, an anti-state provision that outlaws “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, organizations and individuals,” according to news reports.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Hung’s trial was held without a defense lawyer and that his family was not informed of the verdict for more than a week after it was handed down. The RFA report quoted Hung’s mother, Tran Thi Niem, saying that a police investigator handling Hung’s case informed her of the ruling by telephone.
Hung was held in a mental hospital and on remand for over four years before his conviction, according to reports and CPJ research. The police investigator in the RFA report said that time would likely be counted against his sentence and that he would “probably be released next year.”
“Blogger Le Anh Hung’s outrageous sentencing shows Vietnam will go to any length to stifle critical reporting of its policies, personalities, and rule,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Hung and all other journalists wrongfully held behind bars in Vietnam must be released.”
Hung, a frequent contributor to the U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America (VOA), was first detained on July 5, 2018, after criticizing Vietnam’s then-new cybersecurity legislation that significantly expanded the state’s power to censor and control the Internet, according to news reports and CPJ research.
Hung also posted an open letter on social media that was critical of Communist Party officials proposing a new law on special economic zones that critics had claimed would undermine national sovereignty, news reports said.
Hung is a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, a local group that works outside the state-dominated media. Several of its members, including founder Pham Chi Dung, have been convicted and sentenced to harsh jail terms.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment. CPJ calls to Hanoi’s Police Headquarters rang without an answer.
Vietnam ranked as the world’s fourth-worst jailer of journalists, with at least 23 members of the press held behind bars for their work as of December 1, 2021, according to CPJ’s latest prison census. Those held include Pham Doan Trang, a winner of a CPJ International Press Freedom Award for 2022. Trang is serving a nine-year prison sentence under Article 117 of the penal code, which bans making or spreading news against the state.