Phan Kim Khanh

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Vietnamese journalist Phan Kim Khanh is serving a six-year prison sentence to be followed by four years of house arrest on anti-state charges. Khanh established and managed two pro-democracy news websites that tackled issues of official corruption. Khanh has been “badly treated” by prison guards and his health has “badly deteriorated,” according to an open letter written by his father after a prison visit in May 2019.

Khanh was arrested at his home on March 21, 2017, in the Cam Khe district of northern Phu Tho province, according to news reports. The government announced on its official Facebook page that Khanh had been detained on charges of “propagandizing against the state,” an anti-state offense outlined under Article 88 of the penal code punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

The government statement said Khanh posted "fabricated and distorted" information against Vietnam on two blogs, three Facebook pages and two YouTube channels, reports said.

Prior to his arrest, Khanh established and managed two pro-democracy news websites, Vietnam Weekly and Anti-corruption Newspaper, according to the reports. Vietnam Right Now, an independent news website, reported that Khanh had recently posted allegations of official corruption on one of his blogs.

On October 25, 2017, Khanh was sentenced to six years in prison and four years house arrest by the People’s Court of Thai Nguyen province for propagandizing against the state, according to Danlambao, an independent Vietnamese language news website. Khanh’s father, Phan Van Dung, was permitted to attend the trial, but several activists who went to show their support were barred, Radio Free Asia reported.

Khanh suffered from bleeding caused by hemorrhoids, a condition he did not suffer prior to his detention, according to his sister, Phan Thi Trang, who communicated with CPJ via an intermediary. Prison authorities refused to accept medicine and clean clothes brought by his father during a 2017 prison visit, she told CPJ. 

Khanh was transferred from Cam Son commune, Phu Luong district’s prison in Thai Nguyen province, to Nam Ha province’s Nam Ha prison in January 2018, according to the 88 Project, a rights group that monitors the status of Vietnamese political prisoners. 

On September 30, 2018, Khanh asked his father during a prison visit to contact his lawyer regarding an appeal petition he said prison authorities failed to forward to relevant justice officials after his conviction, according to the 88 Project.

In April 2019, prison authorities refused to forward letters Khanh wrote to a court requesting an appeal, according to his sister Trang, who was quoted in a Radio Free Asia report.

Phan Van Dung wrote in an open letter in May 2019 that Khanh’s health had “badly deteriorated” and that prison officials prohibited him from reading books including the Bible. He did not detail his son’s health problems, but the letter said that Khanh was under “extreme pressure” and was “badly treated” by prison guards who frequently threatened to move him into solitary confinement and bar family visits if he did not stop trying to appeal his sentence.

On September 16, 2019, international law firm Dechert L.L.P. sent a petition to the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Khanh’s behalf that accused Vietnam of breaking international laws in arresting and prosecuting the journalist, according to The 88 Project.

Khanh’s father said after a January 17, 2020, prison visit that Khanh had been held in solitary confinement and denied access to the prison cafeteria as punishment for rebelling against the prison’s management, according to The 88 Project. Dung said there had been a noticeable deterioration of Khanh’s health, possibly from malnutrition. 

The U.N. Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion on May 29, 2020, stating that Khanh’s detention was “arbitrary” and a violation of international law. It said that Khanh was “specifically targeted for his independent reporting, and his detention is in violation of his right to freedom of expression, both de jure and de facto.” 

In late 2020, Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security, which oversees the country’s prison system, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment about Khanh’s health, status in prison, and allegations of mistreatment.