Police arrested Pham Chi Dung, a freelance Vietnamese journalist, at his home in Ho Chi Minh City on November 21, 2019. Authorities are holding him pending investigation under an anti-state provision of Vietnam’s criminal code that bars broadly criticism of the government.
The Ho Chi Minh City police released a statement following Dung’s arrest that said he had “seriously violated the law” and that his actions were “very dangerous,” according to a report by local news website VNExpress. The same report said police seized “several documents” from his house as part of their investigation.
Police accused Dung of “producing, possessing, and spreading anti-state information and documents” and disseminating “distorted information” according to news reports. On November 10, 2020, state prosecutors indicted Dung on the anti-state charge at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Procuracy, according to reports.
If found guilty under Article 117 of Vietnam’s criminal code, Dung could face up to 20 years in prison.
Dung frequently reports for the U.S. Congress-funded broadcaster Voice of America and for independent websites including Dan Luan and Dan Lam Bao, according to Radio Free Asia and CPJ’s review of his writing.
He is also the founding chairman of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), a civil society organization that advocates for press freedom and reporters’ rights, according to the association’s website, which operates with restricted access. Several association members were arrested on Article 117 charges in 2020, as CPJ documented at the time.
In the weeks before his arrest, Dung’s reporting for Voice of America was sharply critical of a signed but not-yet-ratified European Union-Vietnam free trade agreement, which he suggested Brussels should not enter into due to Vietnam’s poor human rights record.
Dung’s arrest came soon after he issued a November 10 petition, which CPJ reviewed, in his capacity as IJAVN chair, calling on EU leaders to postpone ratification of the trade agreement until Vietnam improves its press freedom and human rights situation.
Dung was arrested under a similar anti-state accusation in 2012, and was released after six months without being tried, according to a statement by the International Federation of Human Rights. He has faced frequent harassment by authorities and was banned from traveling abroad in 2014, the statement said.
On July 1, 2020, the International Commission of Jurists issued a statement saying that Dung had been held in “incommunicado detention” since his initial arrest.
Dung was being held at Ho Chi Minh City’s Phan Dang Luu No. 4 Prison as of late 2020, according to a representative from Civil Rights Defenders, an independent human rights group, who communicated with CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal from authorities.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s police forces and prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment on Dung’s status and health in detention in late 2020.