Reporters Without Borders on September 13 criticized the five-year prison sentence that the Vietnamese government just handed down to independent journalist Le Anh Hung, who was convicted on August 30 in a trial that was not open to his family and the public.
Mr. Hung, 49, was found guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms” and “infringing upon the interests of the state” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the five-year prison sentence that Vietnamese authorities quietly imposed on independent journalist Le Anh Hung after detaining him for four years in unhumanitarian conditions,” the Paris-based organization wrote in a statement released on September 13.
RSF, an international NGO that promotes freedom of information, criticized the “cruelty and tyranny” of the Vietnamese government when it “forced” Mr. Hung and banned him from seeing his family before sentencing him “in an appalling silence.”
Vietnam has yet to respond to RSF’s statement.
Tran Thi Niem, Hung’s mother, told VOA on September 6 that she was not informed about Hung’s trial and only learned about Hung’s conviction when she called the detention center to ask for information about her son a week later. Ms. Niem also said that she had not seen her son for the past 3 years.
After four years in detention awaiting trial, Mr. Hung is considered the longest-serving journalist in Vietnam before his sentence. During his detention, Mr. Hung was taken to the Central Institute of Forensic Psychiatry and, according to Ms. Niem, where he was “tied up and forced to take medicine.”
Before his arrest on July 5, 2018, Mr. Hung was a regular contributor to the Voice of America (VOA). His articles denounce corruption and the domination of the ruling party, often targeting Hoang Trung Hai, a former deputy prime minister, and industry minister. Mr. Hung accused Mr. Hai of corruption, abuse of power, and spying for China. Mr. Hai was later dismissed from all posts after being warned by Politburo for violations related to “using state property to cause loss and waste.”
Three days before his arrest, Mr. Hung posted an open letter on his personal Facebook page, criticizing the government’s policies and calling for an amendment to the Special Economic Zone Bill, which was being criticized by the public at the time. and triggered many protests in many parts of the country. According to RSF, Mr. Hung is also an active member of groups that protect freedom of speech and press freedom, including the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam and the Brotherhood for Democracy. These two organizations have been banned by the government and some members have been imprisoned in Vietnam.
The United States Agency for International Communications (USAGM), which manages (VOA), has repeatedly asked the Vietnamese government to release Mr. Hung and other imprisoned collaborators, such as Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Van Hoa, Truong Duy Nhat, and Nguyen Tuong Thuy.
Statistics from RSF’s press freedom barometer show that there are 38 journalists currently imprisoned in Vietnam, which the organization says is one of the countries that jail the most journalists in the world.
RSF said that Vietnamese authorities “continue to abuse the justice system to impose harsh sentences with the aim of removing any criticism from journalists.”
Vietnam has repeatedly refuted reports by international organizations, including RSF, about the lack of press freedom in the Southeast Asian country. Spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang once said that Vietnam has freedom of the press and this is reflected in the “development of diversity in types and richness in the content of the Vietnamese press” as well as the “more than 70 % of Vietnamese people using the Internet and social networks internationally and domestically.”