Vietnam arrests another prominent pro-democracy bloggerJul 2, 2021
As the country’s general election fades out with the cemented political autonomy of the Communist Party, Vietnam continues its crackdown on voices of opposition and dissents. Blogger Le Van Dung was arrested for “anti-state propaganda” after a month of evading police following an arrest attempt. If convicted, he will face up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Le Van Dung, mostly known as Le Dung “Vova,” was arrested on June 30, 2021, one month after the authorities issued an arrest warrant for him. In late May, the police came to his residence in Hanoi with an aim to arrest him for “conducting anti-state propaganda” according to Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code. However, Le Van Dung was not home. The authorities read the arrest order to his wife and confiscated his laptop and two smartphones of his wife’s. On June 1, 2021, Vietnamese authorities announced a “special” arrest warrant for him in major media outlets all around the country, accusing him of creating, storing and disseminating “anti-state documents.”
According to state media, his charges have not been announced by the authorities yet. However, they are most likely connected to his role as the administrator and report of CHTV, an independent Facebook-based broadcasting channel that featured news and commentaries about political and social issues in Vietnam such as land disputes or corruption. He is also known for his tireless and courageous involvement in seeking accountability for victims of human rights violations, including of unfair land grabbing in Vietnam.
CHTV’s Facebook page cannot be accessed at the moment.
The draconian Article 117
Le Dung Vova’s arrest follows a series of others all based on the Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code that punishes “anti-state propaganda.” Among those recently charged with these overly vague provision include other CHTV’s members Vu Quang Thuan and Le Trong Hung, human rights and humanitarian activist Nguyen Thuy Hanh, and Homo Homini laureate and book author Pham Doan Trang. What sets his case apart is the issuing of a “special” arrest warrant by the police which is usually done when the wanted person is of great danger or threat to the national or communal security. This measure signals more suffocating climate of intolerance towards freedom of speech and media freedom in Vietnam.
According to 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Vietnam positioned 175th out of 180th countries studied, landing itself among countries with the lowest freedom of speech online and offline. As all newspapers in the country are under the administration of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the only alternative source of information is independent bloggers and journalists, mostly active on Facebook. The platform, however, has reportedly been complying with the Vietnamese government’s request to remove or restrict access to content deemed “illegal” according to the Vietnamese law. The law in question is problematic and ambiguous, conveniently criminalizing critical journalism as “activities aimed to overthrow the government” (Article 109, Criminal Code), “anti-state propaganda” (Article 117) or “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the state interests” (Article 331).