Vietnam: Three journalists arrested over controversial tollbooths reports

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Three independent journalists in Vietnam were arrested by authorities on Tuesday in connection with publication of articles online last year criticising tollbooths set up under a controversial infrastructure funding programme.

Nguyen Thanh Nha, Doan Kien Giang, and Nguyen Phuoc Trung Bao were taken into custody in southern Vietnam’s Can Tho city after an investigation into the activities of journalist Truong Chau Huu Danh, who was arrested in December.

The four are writers for the popular Facebook page Clean Newspaper, which discusses Vietnamese social issues.

Danh had posted criticisms online of build-operate-transfer (BOT) highways that Vietnam has adopted in recent years, sparking rare protests over toll collections described by motorists as unfair.

He was detained by police on charges of “abusing democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of other individuals and/or organizations,” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.

The Clean Newspaper page was taken offline, presumably by state authorities, at around the time of Danh’s Dec. 10, 2020 arrest and prosecution.

The decision this week to charge and arrest Nha, Giang, and Bao was approved by the People’s Procuracy of Can Tho City, and authorities raided the journalists’ homes and seized many items and documents related to the case under investigation, state media said.

With Vietnam’s media all following Communist Party orders, “the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher forms of persecution,” the press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index.

Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its report, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year’s.

“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.

Also ranked low in this year’s survey were Vietnam’s neighbours Laos at 172, Cambodia at 144, and Myanmar, whose ranking at 140 represents a one-point drop from last year’s score, RSF said.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January.

But despite the party congress being over, arrests continue in 2021. (Source: RFA)

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