Nguyen Van Hoa, a Vietnamese reporter and videographer with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia, is serving a seven-year prison sentence to be followed by three years of house arrest on anti-state charges. Prosecutors said the blogger’s reporting, including on an industrial spill that devastated wide areas of Vietnam’s central coast in mid-2016, was aimed at "propagating against, distorting, and defaming the government." He has been placed in solitary confinement and suffered physical abuse in prison.
Hoa was arrested on January 11, 2017, at his home in the central coastal province of Ha Tinh, according to news reports.
On January 23, police informed Hoa’s family that he was being detained under Article 258 of the penal code, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms," according to Rohit Mahajan, a Radio Free Asia spokesman.
Mahajan told CPJ that police had previously beaten Hoa and confiscated his reporting equipment, including a mobile phone and camera, while he was on assignment in November 2016.
Hoa also published videos online of protests against an industrial toxic spill in 2016 that killed tons of fish and devastated fishing communities in Vietnam’s central coastal region in his personal capacity as a citizen journalist, Mahajan told CPJ.
In April 2017, Colonel Nguyen Tien Nam, deputy director of the Hà Tĩnh police, publicly announced the charges against Hoa, according to a report from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Radio Free Asia.
Vietnamese authorities released a short video of Hoa confessing his guilt and requesting forgiveness, the report said. Police said Hoa had a contract with an unnamed foreign media outlet to produce 16 videos per month.
On November 27, in a one-day trial, a court in the central coastal province of Ha Tinh sentenced Hoa to seven years in prison and three years of house arrest under Article 88 of the penal code, an anti-state provision that carries a maximum 20-year prison term for “propagandizing” against the state, according to news reports.
Prosecutors said the blogger’s reporting, including on the toxic spill, was aimed at "propagating against, distorting, and defaming the government." The Associated Press reported that the spill was among Vietnam’s worst environmental disasters.
Hoa has suffered grave abuse in detention. Authorities beat Hoa into making a forced confession used in court to convict environmental activist Le Dinh Luong, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on August 16, 2018, on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, according to news reports and RFA’s Mahajan, who communicated with CPJ.
Ha Huy Son, Luong’s defense lawyer, said that Hoa was beaten in prison and forced to testify against his client and that Hoa retracted his earlier testimony in court, according to news reports. Son said Luong’s conviction was based on the forced testimonies provided by Hoa and another witness who likewise recanted on the witness stand because he was beaten into making false testimony, reports said.
Mahajan told CPJ that RFA was "very concerned" about Hoa’s treatment in prison after he recanted his earlier statement.
Hoa was being detained at An Diem prison, in Dai Loc district, Quang Nam province, as of late 2019, according to The 88 Project, a rights group that monitors Vietnamese political prisoners.
He was transferred to that facility in February 2018, situated nearly 500 kilometers from his native Ha Tinh province, making it more difficult for his family members to make prison visits, according to The 88 Project.
In May 2019, Hoa was physically assaulted by a prison guard and placed in solitary confinement, according to a Radio Free Asia report that quoted a fellow prisoner. He remained in solitary confinement, where he was barred from going outside and was placed under camera surveillance, for four months, according to RFA and The 88 Project.
Authorities also limited Hoa’s family prison visits, imposing a six-month “separation order” in May 2019, his sister Nguyen Thi Hue told RFA. After a prison visit in September, Hue told RFA that prison guards threatened to cut the tendons in the back of Hoa’s legs when he was being held in solitary detention.
In late 2019, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment about Hoa’s health, status in prison, and allegations of abuse.