Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Lan Thang is shown on July 9, 2017, watching a team of political dissidents play a football match in Hanoi. Thang was arrested in July 2022 and is facing trial on anti-state charges in April 2023. (AFP/Hoang Dinh Nam)

Jailed Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Lan Thang faces anti-state charges

Bangkok, April 10, 2023 – Vietnamese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Nguyen Lan Thang and drop all charges pending against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

Thang, a political activist and contributor to U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia who also posted reporting on his personal social media accounts, was arrested on July 5, 2022, in Hanoi, the capital, according to news reports and Rohit Mahajan, RFA’s chief communications officer, who spoke with CPJ via email. Thang was held incommunicado until being charged in January under the penal code’s Article 117, a provision that bars “creating, storing, disseminating or propagandizing information, materials, items and publications” against the state.

Mahajan recently confirmed to CPJ that the anti-state charges pending against Thang are related to his journalism. He said Thang has been charged for posting 12 interviews on YouTube and his Facebook account, which has over 157,000 followers.

Thang’s trial is scheduled to start on April 12 at Hanoi’s People’s Court in a closed hearing where only his family and lawyers will be allowed to attend, according to RFA. He is being held at the Hanoi Police Department’s Temporary Detention Center No. 1.

“Nguyen Lan Thang has spent more than nine months behind bars for his journalistic activities,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnamese authorities must drop all charges against him, and free Thang and all the other journalists wrongfully held behind bars in the country immediately.”

Thang has contributed to RFA since 2013, according to the outlet. In his reporting for RFA, Thang “struck a moderate tone, seeking balance and avoiding sharp, direct criticism,” Mahajan said.

In a June 15, 2022 RFA column, he reported on the deaths of two soldiers in service that quoted family members who doubted official accounts that their sons committed suicide.

In an April 4, 2022 post for RFA, Thang claimed that Russian ships had turned off their locator systems to evade being tracked for alleged illegal oil sales.

Thang is also a member of the No-U Football Club Hanoi, a local activist group that protests China’s sweeping sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and has had many of its members arrested.  

Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email request for comment on Thang’s case and detention.

Vietnam was holding 21 journalists behind bars when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1, 2022. That figure did not include Thang, as CPJ could not confirm whether his arrest was related to his journalism at the time.