Independent journalist detained on anti-state charges in Vietnam

Bangkok, July 9, 2018–Vietnamese authorities should immediately release and stop harassing journalist Le Anh Hung, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police on July 5 detained Hung, a regular contributor to U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America (VOA) and a prominent independent blogger, on suspicion of “abusing democratic freedoms” to infringe on the interests of the state, an offense under Article 331 of the revised 2015 criminal code, reports said.

Enforcement of Article 331, which was previously defined under Article 258, is frequently used to suppress dissent in Vietnam, according to CPJ research. Convictions under the law carry a maximum seven-year prison sentence.

According to news reports and the human rights group Defend the Defenders, Hung is being held at Hanoi’s temporary detention center No. 2 and will remain in custody for three months while authorities conduct investigations. He has not been formally charged.

“Authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Vietnamese journalist Le Anh Hung,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “If Vietnam wants to be taken seriously as a responsible member of the global community, it must stop harassing and jailing journalists.”

CPJ was not able to reach immediately via phone the Ministry of Public Security, the agency in charge of police, for comment.

The reason for Hung’s arrest was not immediately clear. News reports noted that Hung had recently published on VOA a critical commentary on Vietnam’s new cybersecurity legislation that significantly expands the state’s power to censor and control the Internet.

Other reports noted that Hung had recently posted on social media an open letter that was critical of Communist Party officials for proposing a new law on special economic zones that critics have claimed would undermine national sovereignty. The proposed law sparked nationalistic protests across the country in late June, news reports said.

Hung is also a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, a local group of journalists who work outside of the state-dominated mainstream media, the group’s president, Pham Chi Dung, told CPJ in an email.

At least 10 journalists were held behind bars in Vietnam when CPJ conducted its annual census of jailed journalists worldwide in December 2017. All 10 were jailed on anti-state charges related to their journalism, CPJ research shows.