Sentence of Citizen Journalist Do Cong Duong on Charge of “Abusing Democratic Freedom” Reduced to Four Years

Jailed citizen journalist Do Cong Duong

Defend the Defenders, January 23, 2019

On January 23, the Higher Court in Hanoi reduced the imprisonment sentence of citizen journalist and anti-corruption activist Do Cong Duong on charge of “abusing democratic freedom” by one year to four years, Defend the Defenders has learned.

The sentence reduction was in his appeal hearing based on the defense of Hanoi-based lawyer Ha Huy Son who, like in the first-instance hearing, insists that his client is innocent and should be released immediately and unconditionally.

With the outcome of today’s appeal hearing, Mr. Duong’s final sentence was totally eight years for his filming a forced land grabbing in Tu Son town on January 24, 2018, on the day he was arrested and charged with “causing public disorders” under Article 318 and “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the 2015 Penal Code.

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 also defended Duong in the two hearings for the first charge, saidauthorities 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.

On September 19, 2018, 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.