Pham Chi Dung is a well-known dissident journalist and one of the founders of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. Courtesy/Dat Viet / IJAVN
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Thursday’s arrest of Pham Chi Dung, an outspoken Vietnamese journalist and leading press freedom defender who for years has been trying to help create an open and informed civil society in Vietnam that is not controlled by its Communist Party.
Included on RSF’s list of “information heroes” five years ago, Dung was arrested at his Ho Chi Minh City home by police, who told him he was accused of “anti-state propaganda”, a catch-all term that is penalized by article 117 of Vietnam’s criminal code.
According to the prosecutor’s office, he will spend the next four months in detention “while the police investigate”. He is facing up to 12 years in prison.
“Pham Chi Dung’s arrest is the latest confirmation of the Vietnamese regime’s complete inability to tolerate any information that does not issue from its own propaganda apparatus,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We demand this journalist’s immediate release. At a time when Vietnam wants to conclude trade deals with the European Union and defense agreements with the United States, we urge Brussels and Washington to freeze all progress for as long as Hanoi continues to display such contempt for press freedom.”
Expert on party’s inner workings
A former army officer and former member of the Communist Party of Vietnam who returned his party card in order to write and develop a critique of Vietnam’s ruling elite, Dung is well known internationally and helped to create the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) in 2014, for which he was stripped of his passport.
An expert on the party’s inner workings and internal power struggles, he posted an article Nov. 17 on the Nguoi Viet website raising questions about Nguyen Phu Trong, the party’s general secretary and Vietnam’s current president. Rumors about his failing health suggest that he may not be able to hold on to these positions until the party’s next national congress in 2021, which could exacerbate the power struggle among its rival factions during the coming year.
The publication of this analysis could account for the timing of Dung’s arrest and explain why the authorities wanted to silence him at this particular moment.
Vietnam has long been near the bottom of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2019 Index.