The Disturbing Silence of Vietnamese Media over Nguyen Van Chuong's Execution is a Worrying Trend

The Disturbing Silence of Vietnamese Media over Nguyen Van Chuong's Execution is a Worrying Trend

More than a month after the family of Nguyen Van Chuong, a Vietnamese wrongful death-row prisoner, received a court notice informing them about their son’s impending execution, state-owned media remains eerily silent about the incident.

The Vietnamese authorities' decision to execute Chuong, a native of Hai Duong Province, has stoked widespread opposition from the public in Vietnam and among the international community. It has rekindled robust online discussions about the deep-rooted problems with Vietnam's criminal justice system and the hideous use of torture by the police to extract forced confessions. A petition [1] pleading with President Vo Van Thuong to halt Chuong’s execution and re-investigate the case has gained more than 5,800 signatures as of Aug. 21.

However, the local newspaper Dan Viet was the only Vietnamese news outlet that reported on the plight of Chuong and his family despite vigorous coverage of his wrongful death sentence on Vietnam's social networking platforms and by the international media. Dan Viet’s article, [2] published on Aug. 8, contained interviews with Le Van Hoa, a legal consultant to Chuong's family. In his interview, Hoa highlighted multiple violations of due legal process in Chuong's arrest, prosecution, and conviction.

Luat Khoa Magazine recently published an op-ed article [3], stating that the alarming silence of the state media exemplifies the efforts of state-owned media in Vietnam in self-censoring themselves. Given that the journey of Nguyen Van Chuong and his family's decade-long search for justice is a newsworthy story, the writer of the article, Hien Minh, wrote, that it would be common sense to expect the Vietnamese media to delve into and report on the case actively. But such an expectation did not turn into reality.

The lack of coverage of the case of Nguyen Van Chuong by Vietnamese media has left the general public in total darkness about the precarious nature of his imprisonment. No one knows when and how Chuong's capital punishment will occur. No state journalists interviewed his family about their petition regarding his innocence. Vietnamese social media users could only learn about the current conditions of the Hai Duong death-row prisoner after his family was allowed to meet him in prison on Aug. 14. The discussions between Chuong and his family during the meeting were only shared on social media.

Vietnam's control over the press is a top-down process in which the government imposes [4] tight regulations and directions on what content newspapers can report and publish. But the regime has increasingly tightened its grip over the press in recent years. This year, Vietnam ranked 178th out of 180 countries regarding press freedom, following China and North Korea, according to the World Index on Free Press [5] published by Reporters Without Borders. Last year, Vietnam was ranked 174th in 2022.

Recently, nearly all major Vietnamese newspapers have adopted a more cautious strategy following the government's enforced temporary suspension of Zing News, [6] one of Vietnam's most-read online news sites. The temporary shutdown of Zing News has sent a spine-chilling message to the editorial boards of other newspapers and magazines in Vietnam, as the media was considered a compliant news agency that strictly adhered to the party line in its coverage.

On the other hand, the predicament of Nguyen Van Chuong has underscored the vital role of independent journalism in Vietnam and the profound influence of civic participation in Vietnam in the face of the dreadful silence of the mainstream media.

Independent publishers, such as Luat Khoa Magazine, The Vietnamese Magazine, and several news outlets not controlled by the state, have run extensive and detailed coverage of the conviction of Chuong. Additionally, on-the-ground reporting, legal analyses, and petitions to pardon Chuong were published on social media platforms by Vietnamese lawyers, freelance reporters, social critics, activists, scholars, and others concerned about his case.

It remains to be seen what will happen to Nguyen Van Chuong and how long the Vietnamese state media will remain reticent about the precarious nature of his wrongful conviction. Notwithstanding all these hurdles, Chuong's case reflects the resilience of civil participation in Vietnam in the face of a miscarriage of justice. The burgeoning campaign established to oppose his death sentence is occurring despite the regime’s recent arrests of influential civil society leaders, most recently environmental activist Hoang Thi Minh Hong. [7] It shows that the pursuit of justice remains vigorous in Vietnamese society.

We have a reason to be hopeful as long as these collective efforts persist.



[2] Hải V. T. (2023, August 8). Vụ tử tù Nguyễn Văn Chưởng kêu oan, luật sư nói gì?

[3] Minh, H. (2023). Rồi tất cả sẽ trở thành báo Nhân Dân. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí.

[4] Minh, H. (2020). và 18 tờ báo khác sẽ không còn được là "báo" nữa | Luật Khoa tạp chí. Luật Khoa Tạp Chí.

[5] Vietnam. (n.d.-a). RSF.

[6] Vietnam’s suspension of online magazine: when even the compliant are not safe | FULCRUM. (2023, July 27). FULCRUM.

[7] Copley, M. (2023, June 3). Vietnam faces criticism for arresting climate activist as it closes clean energy deal. NPR.

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