The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court has sentenced three prominent members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) to a combined 37 years in prison on charges of spreading propaganda against the state.
In a statement released on Twitter, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called the sentencing “appalling” and said that they:
“firmly condemn this extreme decision, which has again demonstrated the shoddiness of Vietnamese justice.”
🇻🇳 Appalling! Three members of the Independent Journalists’ Association of #Vietnam have just been sentenced to a total 37 years in jail! @RSF_inter firmly condemns this extreme decision, which has again demonstrated the shoddiness of Vietnamese justice.
— RSF (@RSF_inter) January 5, 2021
Pham Chi Dung, president of the IJAVN and a communist party member until he resigned his membership in 2013, received a 15-year sentence. Reportedly frustrated by the Vietnamese government’s indifference regarding corruption, he was arrested in November 2019 in connection to his opposition to the ratification of the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement as well as his previous work, campaigning for human rights both in China and Vietnam.
The other two dissidents, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, were both sentenced to 11 years behind bars on charges of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items that contain distorted information about the people’s government”.
Dang Dinh Manh, a lawyer representing Dung and Tuan, said that:
“The sentences are too hard, especially for Le Huu Minh Tuan, as the court only found six of his articles violating the government’s regulations.”
The trio’s membership of the IJAVN, an organisation formed to advocate for media freedom and democratic reform, is likely to have contributed to their arrest and subsequent imprisonment. The group has previously been subjected to intrusive surveillance, harassment, intimidation, house arrest, travel bans, detention, and interrogation.
The decision comes in the run-up to Vietnam’s 13th National Congress which is scheduled to open on the 25th of January.
The suppression of political opposition has generally intensified as the National Congress approaches. 2020 was no exception to this trend, with members of the Independent Journalists Association and the rights group Brotherhood for Democracy arrested. There are currently at least 150 people imprisoned in Vietnam for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.
John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, urged “other countries to speak up”, stating that:
“Vietnam’s allies and trading partners should be complaining about these new cases to Hanoi and demanding that the authorities release these political prisoners.”
Vietnamese authorities’ incessant attacks on the rights of dissidents must be addressed as the nation approaches its 13th National Congress. In a country that ranks 175 out of 180 on the 2020 World Press Freedom index, more must be done to guarantee the employment of freedom of expression, both by the Vietnamese government and the international community.