Authorities in Vietnam will pursue charges against an editor who was stripped of his credentials after his newspaper ran several articles exposing cases of alleged corruption, according to an official statement.
The Public Security Department announced Monday that it plans to prosecute Kim Quoc Hoa, the former editor-in-chief of Nguoi Cao Tuoi, or The Elderly, under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code for “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state.”
In addition to the notice of intent to prosecute, the Public Security Department also issued a request for a search warrant on Hoa’s home in the capital Hanoi. Both were approved by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate and delivered to Hoa on Tuesday.
Hoa was stripped of his post at the helm of The Elderly on Feb. 9 by the Ministry of Information and Communications, which also shut down the outlet’s website for “carrying complaints and petitions, along with baseless analysis, which led to fabricated information” in violation of Vietnam’s journalism law.
The move has drawn criticism from journalists who suggested the government is taking revenge against The Elderly and Hoa, for tackling the sensitive graft issue, when other official media outlets dare not.
The Elderly had built up a following due to its hard-nosed reporting on several cases of alleged official corruption, but most recently ran a story which went viral about wealth amassed through bribery by a former general director of the government inspection office, Tran Van Truyen.
Truyen was disciplined by his superiors after the article was published, but when the various assets he had attained through graft remained untouched, the public became angered by the government’s lack of a stronger response.
In a December interview, Hoa told RFA that The Elderly had uncovered or shed additional light on around 2,500 cases of corruption in Vietnam, from village to central levels of government, over the past seven years.
He said nearly every year the newspaper had exposed at least one or two cases which had gained a viral following.
Press Freedom in Vietnam
In its annual Press Freedom Index, released in December last year, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that independent news providers in Vietnam are subject to enhanced Internet surveillance, draconian directives, waves of arrests and sham trials.
Vietnam is currently the world's largest jailer of bloggers and social media dissidents, it said, with 34 bloggers currently in detention of some kind.
It cited a decree issued by Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party last year banning bloggers and social media users from sharing news.
RSF labeled Vietnam an “Enemy of the Internet,” ranking the authoritarian state 174th out of 180 countries in its index.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Ninh Pham. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.