Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the sentencing Thursday of two citizen radio journalists, Vu Duc Trung and his brother-in-law Le Van Thanh, to prison terms of three years and two years respectively for illegally broadcasting radio programs to China. “This conviction is harsh and outrageous. We had cautioned the Vietnamese judicial system against any attempt to use the law in an abusive fashion,” the Paris-based press freedom organization said.
Condemning the verdict, RSF said that “The unlicensed transmission of programs that were not in Vietnamese nor aimed at a Vietnamese audience should not have been characterized as anything other than an administrative offense. This verdict shows the authorities were conveying the anger of their Chinese counterparts, who were the targets of the criticism expressed in the radio programs.”
The two journalists were convicted in a summary trial by the Supreme People’s Court of Vietnam under a section of the penal code that bans the illegal transmission of information on a telecommunications network. “We ask the international community to put pressure on the Vietnamese government for the immediate release of Vu Duc Trung and Le Van Thanh, as well of all journalists and bloggers who are currently suffering under a growing crackdown. RSF also appealed to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to consider the demands we set out in the letter the organization sent to him in September.
Earlier this week, about 30 members of the Falun Gong religious movement to which the two journalists belong staged a demonstration outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi in support of Trung and Thanh. Protesters were beaten and detained by police and driven away by bus.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International called the incident an unacceptable violation of freedom of expression and said that the Vietnamese police used excessive force: “The repression of these Falun Gong practitioners by the Vietnamese authorities is a violation of their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We should really question why the Vietnamese authorities are targeting the Falun Gong in this way,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
Since April 2009, Trung and Thanh had been broadcasting programs from the radio station The Sound of Hope Network from their farm in the town of Thach Loi, east of Hanoi. Prior to their trial, they were in custody for 17 months. Falun Gong is a banned movement in China, where practitioners have been arbitrarily detained, held in psychiatric hospitals and in “re-education through labor” facilities, and sentenced to long prison terms. “The prosecution of these two Vietnamese nationals is part of the wider repression of the media in Vietnam,” said Ms. Guest.
Dozens of peaceful political critics and activists have been sentenced to long prison terms since Vietnam began a crackdown on freedom of expression in October 2009. Critics of a Chinese-backed bauxite mine project have been among the targets.
At the time of their arrest this spring, Vietnam was accused of bowing to pressure from China. “Beijing’s reach does not stop at China’s borders. Reporters Without Borders has learned that the Chinese government successfully pressured the Vietnamese authorities to arrest two people, Vu Duc Trung and Le Van Thanh,” said RSF spokesman Gilles Lordet at the time.
On September 7, the organization criticized a sentence of six months imprisonment handed down on the manager of the radio station Radio Era Baru, based in Indonesia, under diplomatic pressure from China. The station is also linked to the Falun Gong movement.
On November 9, Reporters Without Borders together with six NGOs wrote to the Vietnamese delegation coming to Washington DC for the 16th round of their Human Rights Dialogue. In the letter, the NGOs called for the release of Vu Duc Trung and Le Van Thanh as well as all political prisoners held in Vietnam.