Vietnam’s constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. But as the U.S. State Department’s most recent human rights report on Vietnam noted, “In practice, the government did not respect these rights.” The State Department observed, “The government also continued to use broad national security and antidefamation provisions to restrict freedom of expression.” In addition, the report said, “The law…expressly forbids ‘taking advantage of democratic freedoms and rights to violate the interests of the state or lawful rights and interests of organizations or individuals.’”
In its latest prison census, the Committee to Protect Journalists found that as of December 1, 2020, Vietnam held at least 15 journalists behind bars for their work, making it the second-worst jailer of journalists in Asia.
This unfortunate trend has continued into 2021. On October 28, a Vietnamese court convicted five journalists affiliated with the Bao Sach, or Clean Journalism, group and sentenced them to multi-year prison terms for “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Penal Code.
Truong Chau Huu Danh, founder of the Bao Sach group, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years behind bars. Doan Kien Giang and Le The Thang received sentences of three years each, while Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao and Nguyen Thanh Nha were given two-year sentences. In addition, all five have been prohibited from working as journalists for three years after completing their prison terms.
In a written statement, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the United States is “deeply troubled” by the convictions. “We understand this group of journalists focused on investigative reporting on corruption, which, of course, is not a crime,” he said. “The five convictions are the latest in a troubling trend of detentions and convictions of Vietnamese journalists and citizens exercising their rights to freedom of speech and of the press, as enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution.
“The United States calls on the Vietnamese authorities to protect these freedoms, to release these five journalists and all those unjustly detained, and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and without fear of retaliation,” Mr. Price declared. “We urge the Vietnamese government to ensure its actions are consistent with the human rights provisions of Vietnam’s constitution and its international obligations.”