Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Phan Bui Bao Thy, a state-owned magazine bureau chief in Vietnam’s central province of Quang Tri, who is being held on a charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” for accusing local leaders of corruption in Facebook posts. He was just acting in the general interest, RSF says.
The bureau chief of the magazine Giao Duc va Thoi Dai (Age and Education), Phan Bui Bao Thy is facing a possible seven-year prison sentence after being formally charged on 10 February with violating article 331 of the penal code, which penalizes journalists “who abuse their press freedom.” He was previously taken in for questioning on 5 February and then released.
Thy is accused of operating several Facebook accounts, including one about historic monuments called Quang Tri 357, in which he posted reports about cases of corruption implicating the deputy minister of culture, tourism and sports, Nguyen Van Hung, who is from Quang Tri, and the province’s president, Vo Van Hung.
According to the governmental press, Thy will be detained for questioning for the next two months. The police, who carried out searches of his home, claim to have found a great deal of information related to his activities as an online reporter.
“We call for the immediate release of Phan Bui Bao Thy, who was just trying to serve the general interest in his work as a journalist,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “His fate highlights the straitjacket enclosing public media journalists in Vietnam, who are persecuted as soon as they stray from the official line imposed by the ruling Communist Party’s propaganda department. In so doing, the Vietnamese authorities violate article 25 of their own constitution.”
Thy was arrested five weeks after a Ho Chi Minh City court gave three independent journalists, Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, sentences ranging from 11 to 15 years in prison on a charge of “anti-state propaganda.”
Pham Doan Trang, a journalist who was awarded RSF’s Press Freedom Prize for Impact in 2019, was arrested on the same charge last October. She also began her journalistic career working for governmental media before turning to independent journalism in order to have the editorial freedom that doesn’t exist in the state media. RSF has launched a petition and campaign for her release under the #FreePhamDoanTrang hashtag.
Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.