On February 28, the Ho Chi Minh City Supreme People’s Court held an appeal hearing for former journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan. The appeals court announced its decision on the same day, upholding Tuan’s previous 11-year sentencing.
Le Huu Minh Tuan, 33, is a freelance journalist and a former member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), an independent journalism group that is not recognized by the Vietnamese government. He was arrested in June 2020 for “distributing anti-state propaganda”, an alleged violation of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.
After a half-a-day trial in January 2021, Tuan was sentenced to 11 years in prison, along with two other members of IJAVN, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Pham Chi Dung, who received 11 and 15 years in prison respectively. Tuan is known to be the only member of IJAVN to file an appeal against his conviction.
The Vietnamese authorities accused the three journalists of “writing reactionary content” and publishing articles that “distort the truth, incite individuals to revolt and overthrow the people’s government, or incite hatred and extremism.”
Nonetheless, in an interview video with The 88 Project, Tuan highlights the peaceful nature of his work and aspirations. He explained that he joined IJAVN to pursue the human rights which are enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution, including the freedoms of speech, press and association. Tuan also emphasized that his objective was never to topple the current regime.
Meanwhile, the prosecutors argued that Tuan’s “illegal” activities had “affected the reputation of local authorities, the [Vietnamese Communist] Party, and the State;” therefore, it requested the court retain the previous conviction.
According to attorney Dang Dinh Manh, who defended Tuan in his appeal hearing, the appeals court rejected the lawyer’s argument that Tuan had only been practicing his basic human rights and that some of the evidence used to prosecute him for violating Vietnam’s Cyber Security Laws was collected before the implementation of that law.
In its final ruling, the Ho Chi Minh City appeal court stated that their opinions were in agreement with those of the prosecutors and decided to uphold Tuan’s earlier sentencing.
The Vietnamese government’s crackdown on press freedom by jailing IJAVN journalists has received international condemnation.
The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) in June 2021 issued an opinion on the case of Le Huu Minh Tuan following his arrest, saying that Tuan’s detention was “arbitrary” and calling for his immediate release.
Meanwhile, Shawn Crispin, a senior Southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), urged the Vietnamese authorities “to immediately release journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan and stop their campaign of harassment against members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam.” He added that “Vietnam will never be viewed as a responsible international actor as long as it continues to treat independent journalists like criminals.”