Three freelance journalists have been sentenced to between 11 and 15 years in prison for criticizing the Vietnam government on social media. Despite recent reforms, the Vietnamese government still censors the media and does not tolerate criticism.
Le Huu Minh Tuan, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Pham Chi Dung were charged and convicted of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the state.”
In 2014, Dung founded the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, which, according to the police, seeks regime change. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, while the other two got 11 years each.
In a statement, the Ministry of Public Security said that the three wrote posts that “distort and defame the people’s administration, infringe the interests of the Communist Party of Vietnam and state.”
“These are especially dangerous activities that, if not stopped, could hurt national security,” the ministry added.
Such cases show that despite recent reforms in Vietnam, including more openness to social change, it will be long before the ruling Communist Party loses its media censorship. In fact, the regime, led by the 76-year-old Nguyen Phu Trong, has intensified censorship and crackdown on dissidents ahead of the congress held every five years.
Before the trial, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia Phil Robertson said the charges were “bogus.”
“If the ruling party is so assured in its leadership, it should demonstrate its confidence by respecting civil and political rights, ending its tight control of the press, and allowing independent journalists to freely voice their opinions instead of silencing them with arrest and long prison sentences,” Robertson said.
According to Amnesty International, the sentencing of the journalists is in line with the government’s disregard for free speech and free media.
“Even by its own deeply repressive standards, the severity of the sentences show the depths being reached by Vietnam’s censors,” said Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s regional director.