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Vietnamese Journalist Could Face 20 Years in Prison

FILE - Journalist and rights activist Le Van Dung (R) conducts a livestream on Facebook in a coffee shop in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 15, 2018.
FILE - Journalist and rights activist Le Van Dung (R) conducts a livestream on Facebook in a coffee shop in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 15, 2018.

A Vietnamese journalist who reports on corruption and land confiscations could face up to 20 years in prison after being arrested last week.

Police detained Le Van Dung, 51, just outside of Hanoi on June 30, more than a month after the journalist had gone into hiding to avoid a special warrant for his arrest.

The journalist's wife, Bui Thi Hue, told VOA that Dung had been staying at a relative's house and that other family members had also been taken into custody.

"During the process of arresting Dung, two of his relatives, including the house owner, were also taken away," Hue said.

The Hanoi Department of Public Security said that Dung had been arrested for "making, storing, distributing or disseminating information" against Vietnam. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 20 years in prison under Article 117 of the country's penal code.

Reports in state-run media said that for the past decade, Dung had taken part in protests and carried out other anti-state activities. "He took part in several subversive groups as well as some 'movements' launched by domestic and overseas reactionary elements," the Vietnam News Agency reported.

Hue said that her husband denied the charges against him.

International media and civil rights groups condemned the arrest and said they believed Dung had been detained for his reporting.

Dung runs the news channel Chan Hung Nuoc Viet, which posts its reporting on social media platforms including Facebook and YouTube. Dung's content includes interviews with the public and coverage of corruption allegations and land confiscations.

With limited space for independent reporting in Vietnam, many independent bloggers and journalists use social media to report or comment on sensitive issues.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Monday for Dung's immediate release, saying he has "joined the long list of Vietnamese journalists imprisoned simply for trying to provide their fellow citizens with reliable information."

Vietnam's persecution of bloggers and independent journalists is cited in RSF's press freedom index. The country ranks 175 out of 180 countries, with 1 being the freest.

The Paris-based watchdog in July named Vietnam’s leader Nguyen Phu Trong one of its "press freedom predators." RSF said that Trong had "established an unrelenting system of repression to deal with an increasingly robust civil society seeking reliable information, especially on the internet."

The London-based rights organization Article 19 also expressed concern about Dung's case, saying on social media that Vietnam continues to harass and imprison independent voices.

Dung's family said that authorities had come to the journalist's home on May 25 to arrest him, but he was not there. He later went into hiding.

In March, Dung told VOA Vietnamese that he had been summoned by the Hanoi police several times for questioning about his online posts, but he did not report back.

Dung also said that he had intended to run for a seat in the National Assembly as an independent candidate but that his application had been denied because of "inaccurate filing information."

This article originated in VOA's Vietnamese Service.