US Lawmaker ‘Adopts’ Jailed Vietnamese Journalist as Prisoner of Conscience
RFA | 09-25-2020
U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal announced on Friday that he has officially
adopted Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Van Hoa, an RFA contributor jailed for
seven years in Vietnam, as a prisoner of conscience under the Defending Freedoms
Project, a project of the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Under the project, U.S. lawmakers work to raise
awareness of the cases of their adopted prisoners, advocating for their freedom
or for a reduction in their sentences, and calling attention to the laws or
state policies that led to their unjust imprisonment.
“I am proud to adopt Nguyen Van Hoa as a
prisoner of conscience,” Lowenthal said in a Sept. 25 statement released by the
California representative’s office.
“He is a man of conviction, who has been wrongly
abused, detained, and imprisoned for trying to cover issues important to the
Vietnamese people, but which are uncomfortable for the Vietnamese government to
Nguyen Van Hoa, 24, was jailed by the People’s
Court of Ha Tinh in Nghe An province on Nov. 27, 2017 after filming protests
outside the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group steel plant, whose spill in 2016
killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry
workers jobless in four central provinces.
Nguyen, who had blogged and produced videos for
RFA, was arrested on Jan. 11, 2017 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe
upon the interests of the state under Article 258 of the Penal Code, but the
charges against him were later upgraded to the more severe “conducting
propaganda against the state” under Article 88.
Lowenthal had previously advocated for Nguyen’s
release, writing letters to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc calling
for the blogger to be freed, and to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling
for U.S. government in the case.
Three other Vietnamese prisoners of
conscience—Nguyen Tien Trung, Nguyen Cong Chinh, and Nguyen Van Dai—have already
been freed, due in part to Lowenthal’s advocacy on their behalf, the
congressman’s office said.
Others also held
Two other contributors to RFA are also held in
jail in Vietnam.
Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a blogger and vice president
of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vietnam, was arrested in May and
charged with “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for
anti-state purposes.” Still awaiting trial, he is now in custody at the
Police Detention Camp on Phan Dang Luu Street in Ho Chi Minh City.
And in March 2019, RFA contributing blogger
Truong Duy Nhat was sentenced to 10 years in prison, upheld in August on appeal,
following his conviction in what authorities called a land-fraud case. He had
been abducted in Bangkok in January 2019 and taken by force back to Vietnam
after applying for asylum in Thailand.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people,
has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press
freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Vietnam
175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. About 25 journalists and
bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” The
Paris-based watchdog group said.
“As Vietnam’s media all follow the Communist
Party’s orders, the only sources of independently-reported information are
bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher
harsh forms of persecution, including plainclothes police violence,” RSF said.
Vietnam has increasingly rounded up independent
journalists, bloggers, and other dissident voices as authorities already
intolerant of dissent seek to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling
Communist Party congress in January.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese
Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.