Mr. Thang is the fifth person from the Báo Sạch newspaper group being probed for “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code, after Mr. Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Thanh Nha.
On the evening of July 6, the Can Tho City Police informed that the Investigation Security Agency had probed and banned him from leaving the residence for Mr. Le The Thang (39 years old, living in Cau Giay district, Hanoi) to investigate the act of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals.”
Regarding the activities of the Clean Newspaper group, on December 17, 2020, the police probed and detained Mr. Truong Chau Huu Danh.
Then, on April 20, other members of the Clean Newspaper group, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, and Doan Kien Giang were also probed and detained by the Can Tho City Police Security Investigation Agency for similar charges.
According to the Security Investigative Agency, Mr. Le The Thang was the one who directly deleted the Bao Sach fan page after journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh was arrested, but the security agency extracted and archived related articles. He is also the person in charge of technique, photography, cinematography, editing, and editor and developer of the Bao Sach YouTube channel, the Clean Newspaper fan page, and the Clean Newspaper group on Facebook.
What did the police say?
Thanh Nien newspaper quoted the results of the Investigation Security Agency writing: “In August 2019, Truong Chau Huu Danh and other suspects created a fan page ‘Clean newspaper’, group ‘Clean newspaper’ and YouTube channel ‘BS’ Chanel’ and then wrote and published many articles, all of which are “hot” topics of public interest such as the Ho Duy Hai case, Asanzo, the Dong Tam case, Ton Duc Thang University, the western drought, the article about ban rice export during the Covid-19 epidemic, forced at Gia Trang Quan … ”
The police said that after Mr. Truong Chau Huu Danh was arrested, the remaining members automatically left the group, deleted the Clean Newspaper fan page and the BS Chanel YouTube channel.
This newspaper continued: “However, by professional measures, the Ministry of Public Security has extracted and preserved 47 articles on the fan page of ‘Clean Newspaper’ and the group ‘Clean Newspaper’ and a number of articles on the personal page of the group’s members.”
“After that, the Investment Security Agency determined that out of 47 articles above, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao wrote and published 18 articles; Truong Chau Huu Danh wrote and published 7 articles; Nguyen Thanh Nha wrote and published 4 articles; Giang wrote and published 14 articles, and Le The Thang shared an article published by someone else on ‘Clean Newspaper’; the remaining 6 articles the suspects did not remember who wrote and posted.”
Zingnews also said that “The investigative security agency also found evidence that Huu Danh and other suspects through the activities of the Bao Sach fan page received more than VND2.8 billion for communication, brand promotion and legal advice for 8 businesses and individuals in many localities. This behavior is further verified and clarified by the authorities.”
The Security Investigative Agency said that the above articles “have untrue content, lack of verification and subjective interpretations of the accused have infringed upon the interests of the state, affecting the role of the management of the country, state management in localities, causing confusion and suspicion, destabilizing people’s trust, creating instability in society…”
The police also said that the crime of the Clean Newspaper group took place over a long time, was organized, committed many times with many different agencies, organizations, and individuals.
The People’s Army newspaper on October 12, 2020, had an article “Strictly handling the trick of aiding the black media to sabotage the Party Congress”, including a comment about the Clean Newspaper group:
“The Clean Newspaper includes those who regularly write articles with the content of denying the leadership of the Party, destroying the socialist regime, demanding pluralism, multi-party… has launched an information campaign, continuously squeezed distort, slander the Party and State, distort the education sector and party congresses at all levels.”
About the charges of the Clean Newspaper group
Members of the Clean Newspaper group including Truong Chau Huu Danh, Nguyen Thanh Nha, Nguyen Trung Bao, Doan Kien Giang, and most recently Le The Thang were probed under Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code.
The content of this law is as follows: “Whoever abuses the rights to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of belief, religion, freedom of assembly, association and other democratic freedoms infringes upon interests of the State, legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals, shall be subject to a warning, non-custodial reform for up to 3 years or a prison term of between 6 months and 3 years.”
After this group of journalists was probed, lawyer Phung Thanh Son, director of the Law World Company, told BBC News Vietnamese on April 22 that “reading it, it seems that this law is very clear and easy to understand. However, if we analyze it closely, we find it very vague and leads to arbitrary application. Even those who apply the law know this.”
Mr. Son analyzed: “The law appears two words ‘abuse’ and ‘infringement’. These two words make many people think of people who are unkind and whose behavior causes damage to others, so it is easy to empathize and accept this law.”
“Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom, freedom of association… are constitutional rights. However, currently, there are no criteria to determine what is ‘use’ and what is not. ‘taking advantage’ of both, so users of these constitutional rights are easily accused of taking advantage,” explained Mr. Son.
Lawyer Son also analyzed that, when it comes to infringing upon the interests of the state, this law does not distinguish whether those interests are legal, legitimate, or not.
“When the state does wrong, cadres do it wrong, people follow the prescribed procedures but their rights are not guaranteed and they are forced to use the media and social networks to publicize. In such a case, it will certainly affect the prestige and interests of the relevant state agencies and officials. Therefore, it is very easy for the people to be accused of violating this law,” said Mr. Son.
Earlier, commenting on BBC News Vietnamese about the arrest of Mr. Truong Chau Huu Danh, lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan from Hanoi commented: “Article 331 developed from Article 258 of the old Penal Code. I participated in it. There are many cases like this, I know that the elements of this charge are very vague.”
Lawyer Tuan added: “Most of the people who were arrested for allegedly violating Article 331 and some other things related to national security, in fact, were just ‘keying on the keyboard’, not any real behavior which endangers national security as alleged by state authorities.”