Le Huu Minh Tuan’s Frail Health Epitomizes the Fate of Imprisoned Journalists in Vietnam

Le Huu Minh Tuan’s Frail Health Epitomizes the Fate of Imprisoned Journalists in Vietnam

It is widely acknowledged that Vietnam doesn’t have an independent media. Many press freedom advocates, including Reporters Without Borders, perpetually rank Vietnam among countries at the bottom of their press freedom index. At the same time, the Hanoi regime is considered one of the worst jailers of journalists worldwide.

However, as general discussions center on Vietnam’s abject press freedom situation and its increasingly limited space for dissent, the fate of imprisoned journalists who languish in the country’s prisons has often been sidelined. Le Huu Minh Tuan, an independent journalist and member of the unsanctioned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN), is one of them. 

Earlier this year, Tuan, 34, divulged [1] the appalling details of his deteriorating health during a previous family visitation on Dec. 26, 2023. According to the independent journalist, who is imprisoned in Xuyen Moc Prison, Ba Ria - Vung Tau Province, he suffered multiple diseases and experienced both physical and psychological hardships behind bars. Tuan told his sister, Le Thi Hoai Na, that he “couldn’t bear it anymore” and grimly predicted that he would collapse before being released to reunite with his family.

“Tuan couldn’t eat anything,” Na told The Vietnamese Magazine. “Now he only drinks milk and eats diluted porridge to get through the day.” The detention conditions were also poor and unsanitary, Na said, which only made his illnesses worse.

Based on the symptoms he described to his family and through doctor consultation, Tuan was diagnosed with bone degeneration, hemorrhoids, scabies, hearing and vision impairment, and showed suspected signs of colon cancer. He lost over 20 kilograms after only one and a half years in prison. Tuan now weighs a little over 40 kilograms or 88 pounds.

When Tuan first reported his illnesses, his family sent him medicine prescribed by a doctor. “But when he wrote or called home, Tuan told us that although he had received the medicine from his family, all the pills were mixed up, and their labels and prescriptions were removed, so he didn’t know how to take them,” Na said. “He had to take medicine provided by the prison, but the more he took, the worse his symptoms became.”

The conviction and incarceration of Le Huu Minh Tuan, a young journalist, and other leaders of the IJAVN, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Pham Chi Dung, showed sustained efforts of the Vietnamese government in curtailing press freedom and suppressing the voices of those who do not conform to its political propaganda. In January 2021, a court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced [2] Tuan and Thuy each to 11 years in prison on allegations of “distributing anti-state propaganda,” while Dung received a much heavier punishment of 14 years.

Pham Thi Lan, the wife of Nguyen Tuong Thuy, told The Vietnamese Magazine that she believed the sentence imposed on Thuy was “too severe” although he only exercised his right to the freedom of expression and press as written in Article 25 of Vietnam’s Constitution.

Regarding Thuy’s well-being, Lan said that his health appears normal in prison, but recently, he developed a lock jaw, which could be the result of joint dysfunction. Thuy, 72, also has chronic illnesses such as colitis, kidney stones, and high blood pressure. But what worries her the most, Lan said, is that her husband has a history of suffering strokes, which last occurred in 2015. The 72-year-old former IJAVN journalist is held at An Phuoc Prison, Binh Duong Province.

Given her husband’s health concerns, Lan said she wanted the Vietnamese authorities to release him temporarily on health grounds. On Jan. 17, she wrote a petition addressed to the An Phuoc correctional authorities, citing Thuy’s history of suffering strokes, and published it on social media. Lan told The Vietnamese Magazine that she previously sent numerous petitions to the authorities, repeatedly requesting they let her husband have an overall health examination and receive more proper treatment outside of prison.

Na, Tuan’s sister, also grew concerned over her brother’s well-being. As Tuan told her that he was in so much pain, Na had to petition the correctional officers of Xuyen Moc Prison and other government agencies, including the Supreme People’s Procuracy of Ho Chi Minh City, to urgently allow her brother to undergo an in-depth health checkup and have more appropriate treatment. However, the Vietnamese authorities have yet to respond to her requests.

The families of these imprisoned journalists told The Vietnamese Magazine that if political prisoners want to have their sentences reduced and receive better healthcare services, they need to sign a letter of confession prepared by the Vietnamese authorities, admitting their “anti-state” activities. Yet, Tuan and Thuy refuse to plead guilty to their charges, believing they had only practiced their constitutional-given rights.

Tuan’s frail health has drawn concerns from press freedom advocacy groups, which urgently call on Vietnam to free him immediately and provide other jailed journalists with adequate health examination and treatment.

“Vietnamese journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan should be freed immediately and unconditionally amid reports that his health has taken a critical turn for the worse,” said [3] Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asia representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). “The longer Tuan ails in prison, the greater the shame on Vietnam for its cruel treatment of imprisoned journalists,” said Crispin. According to CPJ’s 2023 census, Vietnam currently imprisons 19 journalists, making it the fifth biggest jailer of media workers worldwide. [4]

To the families of Tuan and Thuy, these independent journalists are unjustly imprisoned because they simply express peaceful and moderate viewpoints on different social issues. “Even though I want Thuy to be freed, I couldn’t convince him [to sign the confession],” Lan said, adding that she hoped the prison authorities would let Thuy receive medical treatment outside the prison. “I only want him to be released.”


[1] Thereporter. (2023, December 31). Le Huu Minh Tuan's Worsening Health in Jail: His Family's Fear for His Life. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2023/12/le-huu-minh-tuans-worsening-health-in-jail-his-familys-fear-for-his-life/

[2] Reuters (2021, January 6). Vietnam journalists who criticised government jailed for “spreading propaganda.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/06/vietnam-journalists-who-criticised-government-jailed-for-spreading-propaganda

[3] CPJ (2024, January 5). CPJ calls for immediate release of ailing Vietnamese journalist Le Huu Minh Tuan. Committee to Protect Journalists. https://cpj.org/2024/01/cpj-calls-for-immediate-release-of-ailing-vietnamese-journalist-le-huu-minh-tuan/

[4] The Vietnamese Magazine (2024, January 22). Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) lists Vietnam among top five jailers of media workers. The Vietnamese Magazine. https://www.thevietnamese.org/2024/01/committee-to-protect-journalists-cpj-lists-vietnam-among-top-five-jailers-of-media-workers/

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