Vietnam jails three journalists amid attack on free speech

Hong Kong: Vietnam has sentenced three journalists to prison, including a prominent reporter who had written for foreign news organisations and advocated press freedom in the one-party state.

The sentences are the latest crackdown on independent thought in a country where authorities are busy stamping out dissent ahead of an important meeting by the ruling Communist Party later this month.

The prominent journalist, Pham Chi Dung, was sentenced to 15 years on charges of making and disseminating propaganda against the state. Dung is the founder of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, an unsanctioned group that was established seven years ago in a country where all media is state-owned and the Communist Party has built a large apparatus to stifle dissent.

Two other journalists, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, were sentenced on similar charges in the same Ho Chi Minh City court. They received 11 years each.

Critics of the government denounced the prison terms.

"The accused are completely innocent, and their arrest is a blatant violation of the Vietnamese constitution and international laws," said Nguyen Quang A, one of the country's most prominent dissidents.

Dung has written for popular dissident blogs in Vietnam, as well as the BBC and Voice of America, a Washington-based news organisation that receives funding from the US government.

He was arrested in late 2019 after he issued a petition urging the European Union not to ratify a free-trade agreement with Vietnam that it had signed a few months earlier. He said that his country should first improve its human rights record and its treatment of journalists.

The Ho Chi Minh City court said that Dung had started the independent journalists association as a way of inciting people to defame the Communist Party, local news outlets reported on Tuesday.

The three sentences were handed down weeks before Vietnam holds the biggest event on its political calendar: the Communist Party's national congress, which meets every five years to select the country's top leaders.

As the congress draws nearer, authorities have been arresting or prosecuting their loudest critics.

The New York Times

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