Authorities in Vietnam arrested a journalist Thursday for social media posts criticizing tollbooths set up under a controversial infrastructure funding program, local media reported.
Truong Chau Huu Danh, a contributor to a popular Facebook page Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper), that discusses Vietnamese social issues, had posted criticism of build-operate-transfer (BOT) highways that Vietnam had adopted in recent years, sparking rare motorist protests over toll collection.
Truong has been active as a journalist for several Vietnamese newspapers, reporting on protests against what activists say is “illegal toll collection” and the “illogical construction of tollbooths” across the country.
He was detained by police in Can Tho, a province-level city in the country’s deep south, on charges of “abusing democratic rights to infringe upon the benefits of other individuals and/or organizations,” under Article 331, the Vietnam 2015 Penal Code.
They transferred Truong to authorities in his hometown in nearby Long An province. If convicted, he could serve up to three years in prison.
The procuracy in Can Tho approved detention of up to three months for investigation.
In his last status update on his Facebook fan page, Truong posted photos of Ho Chi Minh City’s deputy party chief Tat Thanh Cang and former transport minister Dinh La Thang, who were both recently arrested and prosecuted.
The photos had been altered to show them in prison uniforms, and Truong had titled the post “reunion.”
Truong is one of the founders of the Bao Sach Facebook page, which currently has more than 100,000 likes. The page has gained notoriety for raising concerns over a death sentence handed to Ho Duy Hai, who was arrested in March 2008 and convicted nine months later of plundering property and murdering two female postal employees in Long An Province.
Ho’s case has been marred by accusations of procedural errors, including Ho’s contention that he was made to confess while in pretrial detention.
Also on Thursday, Vietnam rejected a report by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) about detained journalists worldwide.
The report, released Tuesday, said that Hanoi has arrested at least 15 journalists in 2020, not including Truong.
At a press briefing, Le Thi Thu Hang, spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the report was full of stereotypes about the Vietnamese situation.
“In Viet Nam, just like in other rules-based government across the world, every citizen is equal in front of the law and anyone who commits legal violations will have to be handled in accordance with judiciary procedures as codified in the existing laws,” she said.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. About 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.