Vietnamese journalist Duong Van Thai was arrested on April 14, 2023, while allegedly trying to re-enter Vietnam in central Ha Tinh province. His family confirmed to CPJ via an intermediary in October that Thai is being held on anti-state charges.
Thai, who posts political commentary on his Tin Tuc 24H YouTube channel and has about 119,000 followers, had aired commentary critical of Vietnam’s industrial policy, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, and the country’s finance minister shortly before his arrest. Many of these videos have since been set to private.
Thai also previously ran the Servant’s Tent online news platform, which reported critically on the ruling Communist Party and its top members, and is a member of the banned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), according to information on his background supplied to CPJ by the family intermediary.
Arrest and detention
Thai went missing in Bangkok, Thailand on April 13, 2023, according to multiple news reports. He had lived in Thailand as a refugee since 2020 and had visited the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ office hours shortly before his disappearance.
In July, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security confirmed Thai’s arrest in a letter sent to his family, saying he was in state custody and charged with “propaganda against the state,” an anti-state crime outlined in Article 117 of the penal code, multiple news reports said.
The letter said Thai had “collected information and documents to edit and write articles, recorded video clips with illegal content and distributed them on the internet,” in violation of Article 117, U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported. His family confirmed to CPJ via an intermediary in October that Thai is being held on charges of violating Article 117.
The letter neither confirmed nor denied that Thai was abducted in Thailand and taken back to Vietnam, the report said.
In 2018, Thai had been repeatedly arrested and temporarily detained for several days by authorities at the Ministry of Public Security No. 3 Nguyen Gia Thieu’s headquarters in Hanoi, prompting him to flee to Thailand on February 6, 2019, the family intermediary said. He continued to work as a freelance journalist from Thailand, contributing to various online news sites.
Thai was being detained at Hanoi’s Detention Center B14 while investigations were ongoing, the letter cited in the RFA report said. His mother, Duong Thi Lu, told RFA in August that she tried to visit Thai in detention but was denied by prison authorities.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s October 2023 emailed requests for comment about Thai’s legal status and his health and treatment in pre-trial detention.