Vietnamese journalist Le Anh Hung, a frequent contributor to the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America (VOA), is awaiting trial on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” to infringe on the interests of the state. Hung criticized then-new cybersecurity legislation in a VOA commentary days before his arrest. Since his detention, he has been involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital several times.
Hung, a prominent independent blogger, was detained on July 5, 2018, on suspicion of "abusing democratic freedoms" to infringe on the interests of the state, an offense under Article 331 of the revised 2015 criminal code, news reports said.
Hung had criticized Vietnam’s new cybersecurity legislation in a VOA commentary in the days before his arrest, those reports said. The legislation significantly expanded the state’s power to censor and control the Internet.
Before his arrest, Hung had also posted on social media an open letter that was critical of Communist Party officials for proposing a new law on special economic zones that critics have claimed would undermine national sovereignty. The proposed law sparked nationalistic protests across the country in late June 2018, news reports said.
Hung is also a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, a local group of journalists who work outside of the state-dominated mainstream media, the group’s president, Pham Chi Dung, told CPJ in an email.
Hung’s lawyer, Nguyen Van Mieng, said the journalist was in good health and spirits when Mieng visited him in prison on October 11, 2018, according to The 88 Project, an advocacy group that monitors the status of Vietnamese political prisoners.
However, Hung’s mother, Tran Thi Niem, told the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA) in June 2019 that the journalist was involuntarily admitted to Hanoi’s Central Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in October 2018, April 2019, and May 2019.
Hung went on a hunger strike during his first admission in 2018 and was force-fed by authorities through his mouth and nose, causing him to bleed, according to an RFA report that quoted his colleague and fellow blogger Nguyen Vu Binh.
After visiting Hung at the hospital in April 2019, Niem said that her son had been forced to take unidentified medicine and was suffering both “mentally and physically,” according to the RFA report. After a hospital visit in May 2019, Niem said Hung had lost considerable weight and suffered from depression, according to that report.
Hung’s mother told The 88 Project in a March 2020 interview that prison authorities forcibly had injected Hung with unspecified drugs that made him feel ill and caused him to hallucinate. She said his health, weight, and mental state had deteriorated as a result.
In July 2020, RFA reported that Hung had been beaten with a metal chair, tied to a bed, and forcibly injected with unspecified drugs by a nurse at the Hanoi mental hospital.
In March 2021, Niem said Hung told her by mobile phone call that the hospital had increased his daily dosage of psychiatric drugs to 12 pills per day and that if he refused to take them they threatened to inject him with the medication, according to The 88 Project.
Hung was being held at Hanoi’s Central Institute of Forensic Psychiatry in late 2021, according to Giao Pham, a VOA representative who communicated with CPJ via email.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment in late 2021.