Vietnamese authorities arrested an independent journalist last week, the fourth member of his circle of reporters to be picked up on anti-state charges since last November, in what a press freedom watchdog called a “sign of nervousness” as Hanoi’s Communist Party prepares for a key congress in early 2021.
Authorities in Ho Chi Minh City arrested Le Huu Minh Tuan, a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), on June 12 and charged him under Article 117 of the country’s 2015 Criminal Code for allegedly opposing the state, according to state media reports and a statement issued by IJAVN.
Tuan, who under the name “Le Tuan,” writes articles for Vietnam Toi Bao, a news website affiliated with the local unsanctioned independent press group.
He was accused of making, storing, and spreading information for the purpose of opposing the state. Authorities searched his home and seized documents and other materials in connection with an investigation into journalist and IJAVN president Pham Chi Dung, who has been detained without trial since November 2019.
Tuan, who faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, is the fourth IJAVN member to be charged under Article 117 since late 2019, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CJP), which on Monday called on authorities to drop the charges and release him.
“Authorities should immediately release journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan and stop their campaign of harassment against members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, in a statement.
“Vietnam will never be viewed as a responsible international actor as long as it continues to treat independent journalists like criminals,” he said.
Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific desk of Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), also condemned the arrest of Le Huu Minh Tuan, calling it “confirmation of the nervousness within the Vietnamese Communist Party’s current leadership six months ahead of its 13th five-yearly congress.”
“This young reporter had been playing a major role by peacefully covering the aspirations of Vietnam’s civil society,” he said in a statement. “By silencing those who speak out, the Communist Party’s leaders are behaving like a ruling class that just seeks to protect its privileges.”
In May, authorities arrested Radio Free Asia reporter and IJAVN vice president Nguyen Tuong Thuy and freelance reporter and IJAVN member Pham Chi Thanh, and charged them under Article 117. The two men used to be communist revolutionaries before becoming critics of the one-party state, according to RSF.
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.
The CPJ said that Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security did not immediately respond to its request for comment on Tuan’s arrest and detention.
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.
The country has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Reported and translated by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.