06 January 2021
A Vietnamese court sentenced journalist Pham Chi Dung to 15 years in prison on Wednesday. He had been found guilty of making and spreading "propaganda against the state."
Dung, who has written for the Voice of America Vietnamese-language website, is the president and founder of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam. The organization was established in 2014 to support independent media in the one-party Communist country.
The Vietnamese online news site, VNExpress, reported that court documents said Dung and others set up the organization to "fight and change the current political institutions of Vietnam." Government officials questioned Dung, a former member of the ruling Communist Party, several times for activities connected with the organization before his arrest in 2019.
Dung was sentenced Tuesday along with two other writers, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan. The two were given 11 years in prison, a defense lawyer said.
Dung's wife, Bui Thi Hong Loan, attended Tuesday's hearing in Ho Chi Minh City. She told VOA that she was not surprised by the sentence but called the evidence presented against her husband "ambiguous."
Nguyen Van Mieng is a lawyer on Dung and Tuan's defense team. All three journalists, he said, "demonstrated their rights of freedom of press and advocate for democracy and human rights...."
Mieng added that all three rejected the accusation that they were advocating for a change in Vietnam's government. He said that Dung warned of judicial wrongdoing in his final statement to the court. He reportedly said a ruling of a severe sentence would be a clear "violation of freedom of the press, as well as other democracy and human rights in Vietnam."
The Committee to Protect Journalists described the punishment as "outrageous." It said the government has no intention of permitting "even the most basic elements of a free press."
Daniel Bastard is head of Asia-Pacific for Reporters Without Borders. He said that the sentences were designed to silence any form of public debate ahead of the party's national congress later this month. In an email to VOA, Bastard wrote, "It is all the more shocking to know that the hearing was less than half a day long."
Vietnam has one of the worst records on media freedom. Reporters Without Borders says it is the fifth least free country out of the group's list of 180 nations.
The government has control over radio, television stations and printed publications. It bans independent or privately-owned media and blocks access to many websites.
I'm Caty Weaver.
VOA's An Hai reported this story. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
institution - n. an established organization
ambiguous - adj. not expressed or understood clearly
outrageous - adj. so wrong in a way that causes anger