The People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday sentenced three freelance journalists to a long prison term on the charges of “Making, possessing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and articles against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code.
Mr. Pham Chi Dung was sentenced to 15 years in prison, Nguyen Tuong Thuy for 11 years, and Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan for 11 years. All of them were given additional three years of probation.
According to the indictment, Mr. Dung, 54 years old, and Mr. Thuy, 70 years old, and 39 others formed the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vietnam in 2014 with the aim of “fighting and changing the political regime of Vietnam.”
Mr. Dung, as the chairman, then set up the website “Vietnam Times” to write and publish “content against the State of Vietnam” and at the same time “entice and develop members in Vietnam and abroad to engage in activities against the Vietnamese State,” said the indictment.
Their articles are aimed at “distorting and defaming the people’s administration, harming the interests of the Communist Party and the State of Vietnam,” said the Ministry of Public Security.
“These are extremely dangerous behaviors that, if were not prevented, would damage national security,” said the Ministry of Public Security.
Mr. Pham Chi Dung was arrested and detained in November 2019, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy- in May, and Mr. Le Huu Minh Tuan in June last year.
Previously, the security investigation agency on November 18, 2019, issued a decision to probe a criminal case “Making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items to oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
About journalist Pham Chi Dung
Mr. Pham Chi Dung is considered an outstanding figure by the activists for human rights and freedom of the press.
Until his arrest, he had his own blog on the Voice of America (VOA Vietnamese) site, and was introduced as follows:
“Pham Chi Dung is an independent journalist, Ph.D. in economics living and working in Saigon, Vietnam. Before 2013, he spent 30 years working in the military, government, and party agencies. Due to his anti-corruption activities, he was arrested by the police in 2012. In 2013, he announced to quit the Communist Party of Vietnam’s membership. In 2014, together with his associates established the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vietnam and held the chairmanship of the group. Also in 2014, he was honored with the ‘Information Hero’ by the Reporters Organization without Borders.”
The VOA page also stated, “Pham Chi Dung’s articles are personal blogs and published with VOA’s consent but do not reflect the official views of the US government.”
When he was not arrested, Mr. Pham Chi Dung also frequently answered BBC interviews as a voice of dissenting opinion with the Vietnamese government’s policies but never called for violence or subversion.
Vietnam’s state-controlled media said that Dung was a red seed because he belonged to a family with a tradition of communist revolution, but according to him, he chose to fight for democracy to change the country.
An article in the People’s Public Security (November 23, 2019) wrote: “Pham Chi Dung used to be a ‘red seed.’ Born in 1966, in Dong Thap, Pham Chi Dung’s father was Pham Van Hung ( also known as Ba Hung), former head of the Organization Committee of Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee.
“Pham Chi Dung himself is well trained, graduated from the Military Technical Academy, has a doctorate in economics. for a long time, Pham Chi Dung worked at the City Party Committee for Internal Security Division of the Ho Chi Minh Party Committee and a member of the Communist Party of Vietnam.”
On November 17, 2020, the lawyers of Mr. Pham Chi Dung’s family told BBC News in Vietnamese that he confirmed to the representative of the Procuracy right where he was being held that he had not violated Vietnamese law.
Lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng told the BBC exactly a week earlier he had his first contact with his clients in the case of a number of journalists belonging to the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vietnam, which were not recognized by the Vietnamese government, arrested by the authorities and could be brought to trial within a few months.
“Right in front of me, Mr. Pham Chi Dung wrote in an indictment given by a representative of the People’s Procuracy of Ho Chi Minh City.”
“He wrote clearly: ‘I have not violated the law of Vietnam’ and signed it.”
Tuesday’s sentencing is the latest in an ongoing crackdown on dissidents, activists, and other independent voices, while the Communist Party is preparing to hold its 13th National Congress slated for Jan 25-Feb 2.
The Party Congress is a major political event that takes place every five years, and dozens of people have been arrested, according to human rights organizations.
“With the Party Congress coming later this month, the Communist Party of Vietnam will engage in an unlimited crackdown on dissidents,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) in Asia talks about the trial that just happened.
“Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan expressed criticism that the government does not want to hear, and that is enough to put them in jail for many years on bogus charges,” HRW said in its statement released on Jan 4.