Nguyen Van Hoa, a Vietnamese reporter and videographer with the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia (RFA), 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 a 2016 industrial accident, was aimed at "propagating against, distorting, and defaming the government." He has been placed in solitary confinement and physically abused 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 RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan.
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 around an industrial accident 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 United States Agency for Global Media, which oversees RFA.
Vietnamese authorities that month 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, the report said.
On November 27, 2017, in a one-day trial, a court in the 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 RFA.
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 an RFA report and 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 had retracted his earlier testimony in court, according to the RFA report. 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, the report 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, Dai Loc district, Quang Nam province in late 2020, according to The 88 Project, a rights group that monitors Vietnamese political prisoners.
He was transferred to that facility in February 2018, situated about 300 miles (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 an RFA 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.
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 2019, 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 2020, Hoa’s relatives were barred from visiting him in prison due to the COVID-19 outbreak, RFA’s Mahajan told CPJ in a September 2020 email.
In December 2020, Hoa staged a hunger strike to protest against poor prison conditions, according to an RFA report and Mahajan’s email correspondence with CPJ in September 2021.
In July 2021, Hoa was shackled and put into solitary confinement between June 26 and July 1 as punishment for petitions he had made alleging ill-treatment by prison staff, according to The 88 Project, quoting Hoa’s sister. He went on a five-day hunger strike to protest against his solitary confinement, the rights group said.
Mat Pennington, RFA’s Managing Editor for Southeast Asia, told CPJ by email that Hoa suffered from aches in his joints, headaches, and earaches as of late September 2021, based on information RFA had received from his sister.
In late 2021, 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.