Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the Vietnamese authorities to quash the jail sentences passed yesterday on two citizen-journalists and reiterates its call for the repeal of article 258 of the criminal code – the article used to convict them – which penalizes “abusing democratic freedoms.”
The Hanoi local court took just a few hours to convict Nguyen Huu Vinh, the founder of the well-known Anh Ba Sam news website, and his assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy. Finding that their articles “distort the lines and policies of the party and law of the state, and vilify individuals,” the judge sentenced Vinh to five years in prison and Thuy to three years. They have been detained ever since their arrest in May 2014. “Citizen-journalists have yet again been jailed for wanting to provide their fellow citizens with independently reported news and information,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The scale of this hypocrisy can be appreciated when you realize that many government and judicial officials were Anh Ba Sam’s sources. We urge the international community to put pressure on the Vietnamese authorities so that Vinh and Thuy do not serve these iniquitous sentences.” When Vinh and Thuy were arrested on 5 May 2014, they were accused of posting “bad content and incorrect information that reduces prestige and trust in state agencies.” Vinh created his independent news agency in 2007, calling it Anh Ba Sam (Side Walk News Agency) in allusion to the official Vietnam News Agency. It was renowned for its political reporting, especially its exposés of political scandals and cases of abuse of authority, and was unique for its use of a wide range of governmental, diplomatic, police and dissident sources. Vinh was himself a former police officer turned private investigator. After launching the news site, he was constantly harassed by the authorities, who also kept trying to block access to the site. Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index.