Vietnam continues to be among the six countries with the least freedom of the press in the world, according to a new assessment released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which states that the communist-ruled country has increased control over social media and launched a wave of suppression of independent journalists over the past year.
Of the 180 countries assessed on the RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index released on April 20, Vietnam was ranked 175th and in the group of countries, including China and North Korea, which is considered to be “in very bad condition” in the press environment. This is also the ranking that Vietnam is assessed on the 2020 index, up to one level from a year earlier.
Along with Beijing’s direct intervention in Hong Kong’s national security law in June last year posed a major threat to the media in China, the RSF said in a press release on Wednesday (April 20) that Vietnam “also increased its control over social media content, while conducting a wave of arrests of top independent journalists during the preparations for the 13th national congress of the ruling party ended on Feb 1.” The Paris -based organization mentioned the name of journalist Pham Doan Trang, who won the Press Freedom award in the RSF Influence category in 2019, among those arrested by the Vietnamese government last year.
“As Reporters Without Borders said, in recent times – last year as well as this year, the arrests and heavy convictions of freelance journalists have raised a common concern for all people interested in human rights in Vietnam,” journalist Vo Van Tao told VOA from Nha Trang, Khanh Hoa. “Ms. Doan Trang was arrested and has not been convicted, but we do not expect it to be gentle because the Vietnamese government is tightening press freedom more and more.”
Among the freelance journalists arrested by the government last year, in addition to Pham Doan Trang – who is called “champion of human rights” by Amnesty International of Vietnam – there were also journalists. Truong Chau Huu Danh. They were all arrested just a few months before the 13th Party Congress.
International human rights and democracy groups have accused Vietnam of intensifying its repression of voices of dissent and online censorship in the past year and early this year, around the time of the Party Congress and the National Assembly elections for the 15th term in Hanoi.
According to the RSF, to justify the imprisonment of independent bloggers and journalists, the Communist Party uses the Criminal Code, specifically the three provisions “activities to overthrow the government,” “anti-state propaganda,” and “abusing democratic freedom” to punish them with lengthy imprisonment.
In early January, a court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced three members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, including President Pham Chi Dung, Vice President Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and editor Le Huu Minh Tuan, to between 11 and 15 years of imprisonment on charge “conducting anti-state propaganda.” After more than a month, journalist Phan Bui Bao Thy was arrested for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code. In recent weeks, a number of journalists and independent candidates for the National Assembly have also been arrested by the authorities on charges of “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
According to journalist Tao, these laws are used by the government to “blindly” accuse dissidents and democracy activists.
“Those laws have been recommended to be abolished by countries and international organizations they are controversial making people lose the right to speak out,” Tao said.
RSF’s annual statistics released in December last year show that Vietnam is among the top 5 countries in the world, including China, which jails journalists the most. According to new data released by the RSF along with the World Press Freedom Index 2021, a total of more than 30 journalists and bloggers are currently detained in Vietnamese prisons, where RSF said: “inhumane treatment is common.”
“If we say clearly, Vietnam does not have the press, but only propaganda tools of the Communist Party of Vietnam,” said journalist Tao. “The press must be independent, it must have the right to criticize politics, but in Vietnam, it is not allowed (allowed) and it is very stranger to the press of civilized humanity.”
Vietnam has not yet responded to the RSF Index 2021, but the Hanoi government has always rejected reports on human rights issued by international organizations on human rights and freedom of expression, including the RSF. Hanoi always denies holding prisoners of conscience as well as those who express their opinions in the country.
According to the RSF Index 2021, Norway continues to lead the world in press freedom in a context that the global press, as the RSF calls “the best vaccine against misinformation virus,” is blocked in more than 130 countries around the world. The RSF stated that the press was completely or seriously “blocked” in 73 countries, including Vietnam, and restricted in 59 other countries. Vietnam is classified as black because of its “very bad” environment for press freedom. Since the RSF launched the World Press Freedom Index in 2013, Vietnam has always been in the bottom group of countries, with the worst ranking of 176 in 2019 and 174 in 2014.