Vietnam’s ‘Clean Newspaper’ Writers May Face Additional Charges
A search of one reporter's home uncovered confidential government papers, with police now calling for a new investigation, state media say,
RFA | 2021-06-16
Four independent journalists held in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho province for “slandering” government leaders in their investigative reports may soon face additional and more serious charges of revealing state secrets, state media said on Wednesday.
Police investigators on May 18 recommended that the four writers for the popular Facebook page Clean Newspaper (Bao Sach), which discussed Vietnamese social issues and has now been taken offline, be prosecuted for “abusing democracy and freedom to infringe on State interests” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
The reporters—Truong Chau Huu Danh, arrested on Dec. 17 last year, and Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, arrested on April 20—had posted criticisms online of the Jan. 9, 2020 raid by security forces intervening in a land dispute at Dong Tam commune in which a village elder was shot dead by police.
They had also written articles criticizing the widely unpopular build-operate-transfer (BOT) highway schemes adopted by Vietnam in recent years that have sparked rare protests over toll collections described by motorists as unfair.
International human rights and media watchdog groups Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists have all condemned the arrests, calling for the journalists’ immediate and unconditional release.
A search of Truong Chau Huu Danh’s home has since uncovered government documents containing confidential material, though, state media reports said, and police in Can Tho are now calling for a new investigation into charges of “intentionally disclosing State secrets, appropriating, buying or selling or disposing of items or secrets of the State.”
The new charge under Article 263 of Vietnam’s Penal Code carries a possible sentence of death.
Harsh forms of persecution
With Vietnam’s media all following Communist Party orders, “the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher forms of persecution,” the press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index.
Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its report, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year.
“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. But arrests continue in 2021.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.