(New York) — PEN America condemns the Vietnamese government for the arrest of author and journalist Trương Huy San, calling for his immediate release and the dismissal of all charges against him. 

“PEN America vehemently denounces the Vietnamese government’s arrest of author and journalist Trương Huy San. Free expression and dissent are vital components of a healthy society, fostering dialogue, accountability, and progress. We demand San’s immediate release and urge an end to the escalating crackdown on writers, journalists, and dissidents. These oppressive tactics targeting free expression do great harm not only to the brave people who dare share opinions contrary to the government line but to society as a whole,” said PEN America research and advocacy manager Anh-Thu Vo. 

Trương Huy San was detained for his Facebook posts under Article 331 of the Vietnamese Penal Code (2015), which prohibits “abusing democratic freedoms.” The Vietnamese government regularly employs this overly broad provision to jail writers, journalists, and dissidents for their online expression. 

Article 331 of the Vietnamese Penal Code (2015) prohibits the “abuse of democratic freedoms” and has been utilized to criminalize peaceful activities and expressions, causing direct censorship and prohibiting the diversity of opinions. Article 331 is the second leading article used to imprison Vietnamese writers, behind Article 117 of the Vietnamese Penal Code (2015), which criminalizes “anti-state propaganda.” As outlined in PEN America’s joint submission during Vietnam’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council, these overly broad articles of the Penal Code must be repealed, as well as other legislation that infringes on free expression

Trương Huy San — widely known by his pen name, Huy Duc— was taken into custody on June 1. He had been expected to appear at a public event in Hanoi that day, and when he failed to attend, it soon became clear that he had been taken into custody. It later emerged that his Facebook page had been taken down and that police had searched his home. 

State media officially reported San’s arrest on June 7th while also confirming the arrest of Vietnamese lawyer Trần Đình Triển, also on charges under Article 331 of the Vietnamese Penal Code (2015). It was also announced that San was being investigated by the Ministry of Public Security for his Facebook posts, but the announcement did not specify which ones. San had recently criticized the Ministry of Public Security (police) and its former leader and the current president of Vietnam, Tô Lâm, on his Facebook page. San also posted an article critical of Nguyễn Phú Trọng, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam. 

Following a successful career as a journalist, Trương Huy San launched a popular blog for social and political commentary in 2006, which was shut down by Vietnamese authorities in 2010. He went on to write his most influential work, Bên Thắng Cuộc (The Winning Side), about postwar Vietnamese history and politics during a 2012 Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. Nguyễn Duy’s poem inspired the book’s title: “In every war, whichever side wins after all / It’s the people who take the fall.” Since 2020, Huy Duc has emerged as a leading online commentator on Vietnam’s social and political issues, garnering over 350,000 Facebook followers.

According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index 2023, Vietnam was the world’s third-greatest jailer of writers, following China and Iran and tied with Saudi Arabia. We reiterate our call for the Vietnamese government to release writer Truong Huy San and drop all charges against him and other writers and dissidents imprisoned for their free expression.