GENEVA (14 January 2021) – UN human rights experts said today that the heavy sentences handed down against three Vietnamese journalists and human rights defenders, just weeks ahead of a key meeting of the ruling Communist Party, sends a chilling message to human rights defenders and those working in the media.
“The sentences given to Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan are part of a rising trend in prosecutions, arbitrary detention, reprisals, ill treatment and unfair trials targeting independent journalists, bloggers, pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders in Viet Nam,” UN Special Rapporteurs said.
“Coming just weeks ahead of the National Congress of the Communist Party, the convictions and long sentences are not only a blatant suppression of independent journalism but also a clear attempt to create a chilling effect among those willing to criticise the government.”
The Congress sets the country’s key policies for the next five years.
Pham Chi Dung, the founder of Independent Journalist Association of Viet Nam (IAJVN), was arrested on 21 November 2019, 11 days after signing a letter urging the European Union to delay the approval of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement until Vietnam improved its human rights record.
Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, Vice Chair and Member of the IAJVN, were arrested on 23 May 2020 and 12 June 2020 respectively, after they published commentaries on democracy and advocated for freedom of expression. On 5 January 2021, Mr. Dung was sentenced to 15 years in jail, and the other two were given 11-year terms.
The Special Rapporteurs expressed particular concern that the journalists had been charged under Article 117 of the Penal Code for offences related to “propaganda against the State”.
“We are deeply disturbed at the continued use of Article 117 of the Penal Code which is overly broad and appears to be aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their human right to freely express their views and share information with others,” the human rights experts said.
“Although the Government of Vietnam has said that it only prosecutes and puts on trial those breaking the law, it is clear that Article 117 is not in line with the international human rights obligations of Vietnam and should be revised,” they added.
They called for the immediate and unconditional release of Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan. They also called for the release of all others currently detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, such as Le Anh Hung, another IJAVN member and until his arrest in July 2018 a prominent contributor to the Voice of America Vietnamese service.
The Special Rapporteurs are in contact with the authorities on this matter.
*The experts: Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Karima Bennoune, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
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