Vietnam arrests prominent journalist for Facebook posts

Authorities in Vietnam have arrested one of the country’s most prominent journalists and accused him of “abusing democratic freedoms” by posting articles on Facebook that “infringed on the interests of the state and the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals.”

The journalist, Truong Huy San — known to many by his pen name, Huy Duc — was taken into custody last week, according to a prominent Vietnamese blogger. But there was no official confirmation until Friday night, when state news media reported that the Ministry of Public Security was investigating San for his Facebook posts. There were no details on the content of the posts. The arrest is an ominous sign for other writers in Vietnam. Journalists have long been a target for the country’s ruling Communist Party, which frequently crushes dissent. But San had for years managed to navigate the very small space for independent thought, often publishing articles that criticized the government. His connections with high-level officials were thought to have been a buffer — until now.

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San’s case is part of a sweeping repression of civil society that many rights groups say has expanded in scale and scope in recent years. The law that he has been accused of violating is an “overly broad” one that authorities frequently use against critics of the government, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Huy Duc is the most influential journalist in Vietnam,” said Ben Swanton, a director at the 88 Project, a U.S.-based nonprofit that focuses on human rights issues in Vietnam. “His arrest represents an alarming attack on freedom of the press and is the latest in an ongoing crackdown on reformers.”

Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and PEN America have all called on the government to release San.

Vietnamese state media reported on San’s case together with the arrest of a lawyer, Tran Dinh Trien, who was charged with the same offense as San. Trien, a former deputy director of the Hanoi Bar Association, has represented many clients in high-profile legal cases. He was also arrested because of articles he had posted on Facebook.

After San, 62, disappeared June 1, his Facebook account, with more than 350,000 followers, was deactivated, its posts taken down.

Screenshots saved by the 88 Project show that on May 26, San took aim at police on Facebook with a headline: “A COUNTRY CANNOT DEVELOP BASED ON FEAR.” He criticized the concentration of power under the Ministry of Public Security, which was most recently led by To Lam, the newly appointed president.

On May 28, San posted an article criticizing the crackdown on corruption initiated by Vietnam’s powerful Communist Party chief, Nguyen Phu Trong. San wrote that combating graft needed to be done through institutions and not by “eliminating” several corrupt high-ranking officials.

In 2016, Trong said that his “blazing furnace” campaign against graft would eradicate “bad roots” and purify the party, but it has also roiled Vietnam with an unusual number of high-level resignations.

If Trong “does not show a political road map to make the country more democratic, his cleanliness is meaningless,” San wrote in his May 28 post.

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