On March 23, the Hanoi People’s Court held a trial of independent Vietnamese journalist Le Van Dung, who was prosecuted for “distributing anti-state materials” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s former 1999 Penal Code. The court sentenced him to five years in prison and five years of probation in a two-hour trial.
Le Van Dung, 51, also known as Le Dung Vova, is an engineer and independent journalist who participated in many rallies in Vietnam protesting against China’s actions in the South China Sea and advocating for the environment.
Dung also traveled to land confiscation sites and reported on the violence used by Vietnamese authorities against local farmers involved in land disputes. He was also known for his independent investigation and reporting on the environmental disaster caused by the Taiwan-based Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Co. Previously, the steel plant discharged toxic waste into the sea and consequently caused mass death of sea creatures in central Vietnam.
Le Dung Vova established a Youtube channel called “Chan Hung Nuoc Viet TV” (Reinvigorating Vietnam Television) in 2017, where he posted videos and hosted talk shows discussing various social and political issues. He also nominated himself as an independent candidate in Vietnam’s 2021 National Assembly elections but was eventually disqualified by the authorities.
On May 28, after the conclusion of the National Assembly elections, the police issued a “special warrant” for Dung’s arrest on the allegation of “anti-state activities” after they failed to have him arrested at home two days earlier. Dung wrote on his Facebook account in response to the police warrant that he “will still speak up” even though speaking the truth “would bring loss” to himself and his family.
The police reportedly arrested Dung on June 30 while he was staying in a relative’s house. The relative who Dung stayed with was later charged with “harboring a criminal” under Article 389 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail but his sentencing was suspended.
Dung’s lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, said his client declared in court that he was responsible for all the videos he uploaded online, which were used as evidence of “anti-state materials” by the prosecutors. However, Dung rejected all the accusations that the comments he made in his videos were in violation of the law and claimed that he only practiced his freedom of speech.
The lawyers concluded their argument by saying that Le Van Dung was not guilty and therefore should be released immediately. The court nevertheless rejected the lawyers’ argument.
In an interview with RFA Vietnamese, Bui Thi Hue, Dung’s wife, said that she was not allowed to enter the courtroom because she did not have an official invitation, even though she was previously informed that the trial was a public one. “I think Dung is not guilty, so no matter if it is a five-year or even five-day sentencing, it still sounds unreasonable to me,” Hue added.
One day before Dung’s trial, on March 22, rights advocate Human Rights Watch urged in a press release that the Vietnamese authorities “immediately drop the politically motivated charges” and release Le Van Dung.
“Le Van Dung is one of more than 60 people the Vietnamese authorities are prosecuting or imprisoning simply for criticizing the government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “The Vietnamese penal code provision on propaganda seeks to intimidate people with the threat of shut up or be locked up.”
Attorney Manh wrote in an update after the hearing that Le Van Dung said he would appeal the court’s decision.