Appeal of Citizen Journalist Do Cong Duong on Charge of “Disrupting Public Order” Set on November 21

Jailed citizen journalist Do Cong Duong

Defend the Defenders, November 18, 2018

 

The People’s Court of Bac Ninh province will hold an appeal hearing of citizen journalist and anto-corruption activist Do Cong Duong on charge of “disrupting public order” on November 21, according to his lawyer Ha Huy Son.

Speaking with Defend the Defenders, the Hanoi-based attorney said the appeal hearing will be open for public. However, it is unclear whether Duong’s relatives will be permitted to enter the courtroom, Son said, adding in his two first-instance hearings earlier this year, only his wife was allowed to observe the hearings inside the courtroom.

Mr. Duong, 54, was arrested on January 24, 2018 while filming the land grabing case in Tam Son commune, Tu Son town. Initially, he was charged with “distrupting public order” under Article 318. Later, authorities in Bac Ninh province added the second charge of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code.

On September 17, the People’s Court of Tu Son town convicted him for the first charge, sentencing him to four years in prison. On October 12, the People’s Court of Bac Ninh province found him guilty for the second charge and gave him five years in prison. He has reportedly appealed the two sentences.

It is a small chance of Duong to get lighter sentences since he affirms his innocence while authorities in Bac Ninh province are willing to give him lengthy imprisonment as reprisal for his efforts to fight illegal land grabbing and corruption.

Mr. Duong, who is a land petitioner, became an activist on land issue. Together with other local residents, he filled letters to the state’s leaders to accuse Tu Son town’s government of illegal land seizure.

Duong is also a citizen journalist, producing hundreds of video clips which he has posted on his Facebook accountto report local officials’ corruption and cronyism, including provincial communist leader Nguyen Nhan Chien, who has big houses and has promoted numerous relatives to key positions in provincial agencies. The state-run media has also covered news affirming the information unveiled by Mr. Duong.

Due to his anti-corruption activities, Duong and his family have been persecuted by local authorities. He was summoned by the police for interrogation many timesbefore being arrested. Police also came to his private residence to threaten him.

His house has been attacked with a stinking concoction of feces, shrimp paste, and petrol, and his children have been discriminated in schools.

LawyerSon, who defends Duong in both cases and requests his immediate and unconditional release, said authorities in Bac Ninh provinceand Tu Son townare seeking to silence the anti-corruption activist and citizen journalist without respecting the country’s law and the presumption of innocence.

Two days after the trial against him for the first charge, the Committee to Protect Journalist issued a statement to condemn the Vietnamese government’s move, saying he should be released and all pending charges against the journalist should be dropped.

“If Vietnam wants to be taken seriously as a responsible international actor, it must stop jailing journalists,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative.

Land grabbing is a thorny problem in Vietnam where all land belongs to the state and local residents only have lease rights. The central government and local governments are authorized to seize any land from citizens for socio-economic development without paying adequate compensation.

In many localities, authorities have grabbed local residents’ land at very low compensation prices and sold it to property and industrial developers at prices much higher.

Thousands of farmers losing their land in that way are gathering in big cities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City to demand justice. The land petitioners are treated like second-class residents by the government. They are living in streets and house with cheap renting fees, being subjects of torture and detention by security forces.

Vietnam is among most corrupt nations in the world. According to Trading Economics, the nation scored 35 points out of 100 on the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Index in Vietnam averaged 27.80 points from 1997 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 35 points in 2017 and a record low of 24 points in 2002.

In Vietnam where communists have ruled for decades, the government strictly controls media. Dozens of bloggers and independent journalists have been harassed and jailed.

Vietnam’s press freedom index is ranked at the 175th out of 179 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ 2018Report, unchanged from previous years.