Prosecutors in Vietnam have indicted three leaders of an independent journalist advocacy group for their writings critical of the one-party communist government, laying charges that could land the men in jail for two decades, RFA has learned.
Three leaders of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) — president Pham Chi Dung, vice president Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and editor Le Huu Minh Tuan – were charged Tuesday by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Procuracy with making, storing and spreading information for the purpose of opposing the state.
If convicted of the charges in Article 117 of the Vietnamese Criminal Code, they could face between 10 and 20 years in prison.
Pham was arrested first in Nov. 2019, Nguyen this year in May, and Le in June. Another IJAVN member, independent journalist Pham Chi Thanh, was arrested in May 2020.
Defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng told RFA Tuesday he met with Pham at the Ho Chi Minh City police detention camp and received the indictment from a procuracy representative named Dao Cong Lu.
“Mr. Dao Cong Lu asked Pham Chi Dung to sign to confirm that he received the indictment, but Pham wrote on it ‘I did not violate Vietnamese law,’ and then signed,” said Nguyen the defense lawyer.
“I also read the indictment… I told Pham Chi Dung that he was prosecuted under Article 117 and could be in jail from 10 to 20 years if he is found guilty. Mr. Pham told me that he did not sign any testimonies except for some, which he wrote that he did not violate Vietnamese law,” the lawyer said.
The lawyer then met with Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who was prior to his arrest a contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy said he would appeal this indictment because he says it has many mistakes,” said the attorney.
“He said the reason is because when they reviewed the stories posted on the Vietnam Times website, they forced him to sign that they were his. From these stories, they accused him of violating Article 117,” the lawyer said.
According to the lawyer, Nguyen said that there was confusion between him and another author because his name is similar to another author’s pen name. Five stories written by “Tuong Thuy” were not his own, he said.
Le Huu Minh Tuan, meanwhile, met with his lawyer Dang Dinh Manh. RFA contacted Dang by phone, but he said he was unable to talk.
According to the indictment, the procuracy accuses the IJAVN leaders of aiding and “abetting discontented individuals and eroding the people’s faith in the ruling party and state, causing confusion in public opinion, and sowing disunity among the party and state members.”
The document says they need to be treated strictly in order to educate and deter others.
The IJAVN was among more than 190 organizations that signed a May 5 letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to take action to secure the release of jailed journalists worldwide amid the health risks posed to prison populations by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vietnam, whose ruling Communist Party controls all media and tolerates no dissent, ranks 175th of 180 countries on RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Many observers say the party is detaining so many writers and bloggers because it appears nervous about a major party congress in January.
Meanwhile on Nov 6, a 50-year-old blogger was arrested, also for allegedly violating Article 117.
State media reported that Nguyen Van Lam of Nghe An province had shared videos, photos and stories with content that violated Vietnamese laws to his Facebook account under the name Lam Thoi.
A police investigation determined that under the name Lam Thoi, Nguyen had posted and shared many stories, photos and videos since 2017, including three livestream videos and 13 stories shared from “reactionary websites.”
Nghe An police said that Nguyen had been summoned on Dec. 4, 2019 for his activities as Lam Thoi and at that time he admitted to running the account, which had 5,000 followers at the time.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of which 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.