Vietnamese independent journalist Le Van Dung was sentenced to five years in prison by a Hanoi court on March 23 after being charged with conducting propaganda against the communist regime through social media posts.
Dung, 51, was convicted of posting 12 videos on social media to defame the Vietnamese government and spread fabricated news to confuse the citizens. Five of the videos reportedly contained anti-state propaganda, according to state-run media.
During his trial, Dung admitted to posting the videos on his social media accounts but refused to regard them as illegal acts. His lawyer said that Dung did not plead guilty and will make an appeal against the verdict, Reuters reported.
Dung is a construction engineer who has been involved in protests, pro-democracy activism, and human rights advocacy since 2011. He founded the Chan Hung TV YouTube channel, which covers a wide range of social and political issues in Vietnam.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), he attempted to run as an independent candidate for the National Assembly in the May 2021 elections but was disqualified by local authorities.
Two days after the elections, police tried to arrest Dung for reporting on issues deemed to contain anti-state propaganda, but he reportedly fled to his relative’s home in Hanoi to hide.
Dung was subsequently arrested on June 30, 2021, along with his relative, Nguyen Van Son, who was charged with “hiding a criminal.” The court said that Son’s sentence was lowered as he admitted to the crime and because he served in the army.
Prior to the trial, HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson had urged the Vietnamese authorities to “immediately drop the politically motivated charges” against Dung and release him.
Robertson claimed that Dung was one of more than 60 people being prosecuted in Vietnam for criticizing the government, saying that the Vietnamese penal code provision on propaganda seeks to intimidate citizens with the threat of being locked up.
“International donors and trade partners of Vietnam should press Hanoi to listen to its critics instead of prosecuting them,” Robertson said.
Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in December 2021 that the Vietnamese criminal code under which these charges were brought is “overly broad” and “inconsistent with international human rights norms.”
“All the cases follow similar worrying patterns that raise serious issues concerning the presumption of innocence, the legality of their detention, and the fairness of their trial,” Shamdasani said, urging the Vietnamese authorities to stop violating “fundamental freedoms” and release all detained activists.