All five journalists worked for independent news outlet Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper), which is hosted on Facebook, with the court ruling that the page published alleged misinformation and content that defamed the government.
Founder and editor, Truong Chau Huu Danh, was sentenced to four and half years in prison, while journalists Doan Kien Giang and Le The Thang were given three-year long sentences. Nguyen Thanh Nhe and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao were both sentenced to two years imprisonment. The journalists are also prohibited from participating in any journalistic activity for three years following the completion of their prison term.
Pro-government media outlet Trelàng Blog reported that the sentences against the five journalists had been issued by the Thoi Lai District People’s Court following a three-day hearing.
Radio Free Asia reports that Article 331 of the Penal Code is an anti-state provision that works to penalise those who abuse “the rights to freedom and democracy to violate the State’s interests and the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals”.
“The sentence, especially for Truong Chau Huu Danh, was too severe, and the sanctions used under Article 331 are too harsh,” independent journalist, Duong Van Thai told Radio Free Asia. “Authoritarian countries will give someone a harsh verdict if they want to destroy them,” he said.
The sentencing has been met with condemnation from human rights groups and international governments. On October 29, the United States Department of State stated it was “deeply troubled” by the convictions. “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”, said the statement.
The severe jail terms follow the Vietnamese government’s shifting approach towards independent journalism and continuing suppression of press freedom, due to the general secretary of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong’s, successful introduction of his conservative hard line within the party in early 2021.
The IFJ said: “Authorities in Vietnam continue to stifle independent journalism and legitimate reportage, with dire implications for press freedom. The IFJ calls on the government to immediately release the five detained journalists and repeal Article 331 of the Penal Code so that the media may continue to work without fear of persecution.”