Police arrested Pham Chi Dung, a freelance Vietnamese journalist, at his home in Ho Chi Minh City on November 21, 2019. He is serving a 15-year prison sentence after being convicted on charges of conducting anti-state propaganda in 2021.
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 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 charge of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the penal code at the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Procuracy, according to a report by U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia (RFA).
On January 5, 2021, Dung was sentenced to 15 years in prison, to be followed by three years of house arrest, in a one-day trial, according to news reports. In a January 18 statement, Dung said he would not appeal his conviction because the judicial system is not independent in Vietnam and that verdicts are mostly pre-determined.
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. Dung’s arrest came soon after he issued a petition on November 10, 2019, 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.
Bui Thi Hong Loan, Dung’s wife, told CPJ via messaging app that Dung had started a hunger strike in June 2022 to protest prison officials’ refusal to give prisoners medicine and dental treatment. His hunger strike limited his food intake to rice gruel. An IJAVN representative, who communicated with CPJ by email and requested anonymity for security reasons, also said the strike was ongoing in December 2023.
In January 2023, Dung was taken to the prison’s infirmary for observation because he was constantly spitting blood, the IJAVN representative said.
Dung’s family requested private medical care to diagnose and treat the ailment, but this was denied by prison authorities, the representative said. Dung also suffered from hypertension throughout 2023.
In mid-2023, Dung told his family to stop sending money for basic necessities after the Sentencing Management Unit demanded he pay 1 billion dong ($41,200) for “illegal earnings” for publishing articles in foreign media outlets and the IJAVN-run Vietnam Times before his arrest and sentencing, the IJAVN representative said.
Dung is being held at Xuan Loc prison in Dong Nai province, according to the IJAVN representative and The 88 Project, an independent rights group that monitors the situation of Vietnamese political prisoners.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s police forces and prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s October 2023 emailed request for comment on Dung’s status and health in detention.