Vietnamese journalist gets five years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the five-year jail term that Vietnam’s authorities quietly imposed on the independent journalist Le Anh Hung after holding him for four years in inhuman conditions. The authorities keep abusing the justice system to impose harsh sentences with the aim of eliminating all criticism by journalists, RSF said.
“The cruelty and tyranny of the Vietnamese authorities seem to know no bounds,” RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said. “After forcibly interning Le Anh Hung and forbidding him to see his family, they sentenced him with a deafening silence. We call on the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Alice Jill Edwards, to take action to ensure the survival of the 38 journalists currently held in Vietnam’s prisons.”
A court in the capital, Hanoi, sentenced the 49-year-old Hung to five years in prison on 30 August on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” and “infringing upon the interests of the state” under article 331 of Vietnam’s criminal code.
Prevented from seeing his family for three years
His family was not allowed to attend the trial, was not even told that it was going to take place and was not told afterwards that he had been sentenced. It was only a week later, on 6 September, when his mother called to get some news about him, that the authorities told her he had been tried and sentenced. Hung refused to be defended by a lawyer and the authorities had clearly seen no point in informing the family.
The more than four years that Hung had spent awaiting trial since his arrest on 5 July 2018 was one of the longest spells of pre-trial detention ever inflicted on a journalist in Vietnam, where a total of 38 journalists are currently jailed, according to RSF’s press freedom barometer. Given the length of his pre-trial detention, he theoretically has less than a year of his sentence still to serve.
His mother tried to see him after the trial. She went to Hoa Lo Prison No. 1 to bring him money but the prison authorities denied her right to see him. The family has been systematically denied the right to visit him for the past three years. This is not an isolated case. Last month, the journalist Pham Doan Trang’s family was forbidden to attend the hearing at which an appeal court upheld her nine-year jail sentence.
Targeted for his online criticism
Hung wrote about politics and was a regular contributor to the Voice of America website. His posts denounced the ruling party’s corruption and domination, and often targeted Hoang Trung Hai, a former deputy prime minister and industry minister, whom he accused of corruption, abuse of power, and spying for China.
Three days before his arrest, he posted an open letter on his Facebook page that went viral. The letter decried government policies and called for the overhaul of a proposed law creating “special economic zones” in three of Vietnam’s regions. The proposed law had been widely criticised by the public and had prompted protests that were violently dispersed.
Hung was also an active member of groups defending freedom of expression and press freedom including the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam and the Brotherhood for Democracy. These two organisations were banned by the Vietnamese Communist Party and some of its members were tracked down and jailed.
Held in inhuman conditions
Hung was interned in a psychiatric hospital in Hanoi for the first three years and ten months after his arrest, despite his repeated insistence that his mental health was fine. In their determination to make him submit, the medical authorities attached him to his bed, often beat him and pumped him full of drugs. In April of this year, his mother protested publicly when they doubled the dosage he was getting. He was finally transferred to Hoa Lo Prison No. 1 in May pending trial.
The year Hung was arrested, 2018, also saw the arrest of Do Cong Duong, another journalist who was charged with “abusing democratic freedoms.” Duong’s health deteriorated significantly in detention and, as a result of being denied proper medical attention, he died in prison last month.