Hanoi police officially announced the investigation against Mai Phan Loi on 2 July, one week after he was initially arrested on 24 June, on a warrant with the extremely vague charge of “tax evasion,” which carries a possible seven-year prison sentence under article 200 of the penal code. It did not specify the nature of the alleged crimes or the amount supposedly evaded.
Loi made a name for himself in the Vietnamese blogosphere thanks above all to a series of interviews he conducted with experts on economic, social and environmental issues in Vietnam. Before that, he was the deputy editor of Phap Luat (The Law), a state-controlled magazine covering legal issues.
The authorities refused to renew Loi’s press card five years ago after he investigated the mysterious circumstances in which CASA 8983, a Vietnamese air force reconnaissance plane, disappeared in June 2016.
“We are not fooled by the tax fraud accusation brought against Mai Phan Loi,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “Everything indicates that it is just a pretext to silence a journalist who tried to do his job to inform his fellow citizens properly. We demand his immediate release and the withdrawal of this clearly trumped-up charge.”
The same charge of tax evasion was also used to arrest another expert on legal issues, Dang Dinh Bach, on the same day as Loi’s arrest.
As well as a journalist, Loi also made a name for himself as a defender of editorial freedom in the Vietnamese media. It was as such that he was included in a group of six civil society representatives who met then US President Barack Obama during Obama’s visit to Hanoi in May 2016.
Loi joins the growing list of Vietnamese journalists who began working for the state media and were arrested after later choosing to work freely and independently. The victims of the wave of arrests of such journalists, which began more than a year ago, include Pham Doan Trang, a recipient of the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2019.
Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.