Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Date: 8 January 2021
On Tuesday, 5 January, three independent journalists in Viet Nam received severe sentences of between 11 and 15 years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of national security offences – a disturbing development that appears to be part of an increasing clampdown on the freedom of expression in the country.
Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, respectively chairperson, the vice chairperson and a young member of the Independent Journalists Association of Viet Nam, were convicted by the People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City of “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code. Pham Chi Dung was sentenced to 15 years in prison and three years on probation. Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan were each sentenced to 11 years in prison and three years on probation. All three individuals were held in lengthy pre-trial detention, and despite assurances given by the Government that due process was followed, there are serious concerns about whether their rights to a fair trial were fully respected.
We are deeply concerned by the use of vaguely-defined laws to arbitrarily detain an increasing number of independent journalists, bloggers, online commentators and human rights defenders – in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). They are then frequently held incommunicado for long periods in pre-trial detention, with regular reports of violations of the right to a fair trial and concerns about their treatment in detention. Several of them have received lengthy sentences following their conviction for crimes against national security.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights and a number of UN human rights mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Committee which oversees implementation of the ICCPR, have repeatedly called on Viet Nam to refrain from using restrictive legislation to curtail fundamental freedoms and to uphold its international human rights obligations. We also have serious concerns that individuals who try to cooperate with the UN’s human rights bodies are subjected to intimidation and reprisals, potentially inhibiting others from sharing information about human rights issues with the UN.
We continue to raise these cases with the Government of Viet Nam, to call on them to stop the repeated use of such serious criminal charges against individuals for exercising their fundamental rights, especially to freedom of expression – and to unconditionally release all those who have been detained in such cases.
We also urge them to revise and amend the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code to bring them in line with Viet Nam’s obligations under Article 19 of the ICCPR relating to the freedom of expression. People should be able to exercise these rights without fear of reprisals.
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