(New York, NY) — Recent reports that a Vietnam court has sentenced five journalists to prison for their news coverage of government affairs and corruption demonstrates the authorities’ deliberate disregard for the universal right to freedom of expression in order to protect the state’s image, PEN America said today. 

“Each conviction of the five Bao Sach journalists is a glaring violation of their basic human rights in the interest of government optics,” said James Tager, director of research at PEN America. “The court’s decision—finding the journalists’ reporting to be an abuse of ‘democratic rights and freedoms’—demonstrates the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam’s ongoing and systematic assault against free expression and press freedom. Reporting and commentary on government affairs should be championed as a means to inform the public and inspire civic engagement, not repressed and ruled as a crime against the state. We urge Vietnamese authorities to release each Bao Sach journalist from prison, acquit them of the charges, and end the prosecution of all journalists and writers for their expression.”

On October 28, a court in the southern city of Can Tho imposed criminal sentences on five journalists for Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper), an independent news outlet that reports on alleged corruption via Facebook. The five journalists are Truong Chau Huu Danh, Doan Kien Giang, Le The Thang, Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao, and Nguyen Thanh Nha. Each journalist was convicted under Article 331 of the penal code, criminalizing “abusing democratic rights and freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.” As the reported head of Bao Sach, Truong Chau Huu was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. The four other journalists’ sentences range from two to three years in prison. Each of their sentences includes a three-year ban on working as journalists once conditionally released from prison. 

The convictions of the Bao Sach journalists are an example of a larger pattern of Vietnamese authorities imprisoning journalists, writers, and poets for their expression. At least four freelance journalists and members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) have been arrested and imprisoned in the last two years, now serving lengthy sentences for their writing. In October 2020, Vietnamese authorities arrested writer, blogger, and pro-democracy activist Pham Doan Trang and detained her incommunicado until October 19, 2021, when she was allowed to meet with her lawyer for the first time. Last week, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued its opinion on her case, ruling that authorities violated Trang’s human rights and must release her immediately. Vietnam has ranked among the top-ten countries with the largest number of jailed writers, as noted in PEN America’s 2019 and 2020 Freedom to Write Index.