Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a 68-year-old blogger and IJAVN vice-president, was arrested on 23 May in Hanoi, where he lives, and was immediately transported 1,700 km south of the capital to Ho Chi Minh City, where he continues to be held. A former Vietnamese Communist Party combatant, Thuy became a reporter for Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the US Congress.
Pham Chi Thanh, a journalist and prominent IJAVN member who uses the pseudonym of Pham Thanh, was arrested when police arrived at his Hanoi home at 8 a.m. on 21 May and immediately took him away. His is currently being held in a Hanoi prison under article 117 of the criminal code, which penalizes “opposing the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
Also aged 68 and an old Communist Party member, Thanh used to work with the state-owned Voice of Vietnam radio station before becoming a pro-democracy activist and critic of the one-party state. He edited a blog, Ba Dam Xoe, and had just published a book about the Communist party’s general secretary entitled “Nguyen Phu Trong: holder of the mandate of heaven or great immoral traitor.”
“The almost simultaneous arrests of Pham Chi Thanh and Nguyen Tuong Thuy send an extremely chilling message to all those trying to maintain a public debate in Vietnam,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“The fact that the government has detained these two journalists, both respected former Communist Party members who have become scathing critics of the party’s ossification, speaks volumes about the feverishness at the head of the party as it prepares for its 21st five-yearly congress in six months’ time. We urge Vietnam’s commercial partners, including the European Union and the United States, to press for an end to this latest crackdown.”
Last week’s two arrests were preceded on 8 May by the arrest of Phung Thuy, a bookseller who helped to sell books produced by the Progressive Publishing House (NXBTD), including Thanh’s books. Intelligence agents tortured him in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to reveal the current address of Pham Doan Trang, a journalist and author who was awarded RSF’s Prize for Impact in 2019.
The IJAVN, which also tries to promote a public debate in Vietnam, was created in 2014. Its president, Pham Chi Dung, who was included in RSF’s list of “information heroes” five years ago, was arrested last November.
Vietnam has long been near the bottom of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2020 Index.