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Vietnam confirms it is detaining prominent journalist


FILE - This photo taken on April 10, 2021, shows Truong Huy San, also known as Huy Duc, during a visit to Hanoi. Authorities in Vietnam have arrested the independent journalist for "abusing democratic freedoms," police announced on June 8, 2024.
FILE - This photo taken on April 10, 2021, shows Truong Huy San, also known as Huy Duc, during a visit to Hanoi. Authorities in Vietnam have arrested the independent journalist for "abusing democratic freedoms," police announced on June 8, 2024.

Authorities in Vietnam on Friday confirmed they have detained Truong Huy San, a prominent journalist who had been missing for several days.

Friends and colleagues of the journalist, known by his pen name Huy Duc, had raised the alarm on June 1 when he failed to show up at an event in Hanoi where he had been scheduled to speak.

The journalist is known in Vietnam for his independent coverage and commentary of the government and top leaders, which he shared via social media.

Just a few days before his arrest, Huy Duc had posted articles on Facebook about Vietnam’s political turmoil.

In one post, he criticized General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong for an anti-corruption drive the Communist Party leader initiated in 2013. In another, Huy Duc claimed the Ministry of Public Security had abused power when To Lam, the newly installed president of Vietnam, was leading the ministry.

“The opinions that Huy Duc expressed in his recent writings are very strong, very straightforward, very direct, without any reserve or hesitation,” said Tran Thanh Canh, a Hanoi-based writer.

“Huy Duc told me that he would take risks for writing for the common good,” said Canh, who spoke with VOA before authorities had confirmed the arrest.

Vietnamese authorities have charged Huy Duc with “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. The country has long been criticized by human rights groups for its use of Article 331 as a tool of repression.

The national security police said that Huy Duc had “violated the law” and “posted articles on the social media Facebook that infringed on the interests of the State and the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals,” according to the daily state-run newspaper Tuoi Tre.

Before his social media accounts were removed on June 2, Huy Duc had more than 350,000 Facebook followers.

He has worked as an independent journalist since 2009 after being terminated from his job at a state-run newspaper because of his political opinions. He went on to found a blog, but authorities shuttered that in 2010.

Huy Duc’s articles are “an invaluable source of information enabling the Vietnamese public to access censored information by the Hanoi regime,” Cedric Alviani, director of the Asia bureau of Reporters Without Borders, known as RSF, said in a statement.

RSF and media rights groups — including Committee to Protect Journalists or CPJ, Human Rights Watch, and PEN America — have urged Vietnam to free Huy Duc.

“We are concerned Truong Huy San may be targeted for his writings, which have been critical of the Vietnamese government,” PEN America said on the social platform X. “Charges must not be brought against Truong Huy San for his free expression.”

The spokesperson for the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to VOA’s request for comment.

The spokesperson, however, has previously rejected international criticism on Vietnam’s record for free expression and the number of journalists detained, saying that only criminals are imprisoned.

In 2005, the U.S. State Department awarded Huy Duc the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship to study at University of Maryland. And in 2012 he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.

A State Department spokesperson told VOA by email Monday that it routinely calls on Hanoi “to respect and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all in Vietnam, consistent with its international obligations and commitments, and to release all unjustly detained persons.”

Prior to becoming a journalist, Huy Duc was an officer in the Vietnamese Army. He was featured in an on-camera interview in the 2018 Ken Burns documentary “The Vietnam War.”

“By wrongfully arresting Huy Duc, the Vietnamese authorities are targeting one of Vietnam’s most courageous and influential journalists,” Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Huy Duc’s arrest “represents an alarming attack on freedom of the press and is the latest in an ongoing crackdown on reformers,” said a statement from The 88 Project, cited by AP. The multinational group that monitors human rights in Vietnam urged the U.S. to sanction Hanoi for its repression of dissent.

Media watchdog RSF says that independent bloggers and journalists have been under pressure since 2016. Journalists critical of the regime are accused of disseminating “propaganda against the state” or “abusing democratic freedoms” and can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

RSF ranks Vietnam 174 out of 180 on its global press freedom index, where 1 shows the best media environment.

The country is also the fifth worst jailer of journalists worldwide, with at least 19 reporters behind bars for their work as of Dec. 1, 2023, according to CPJ data. Among those detained are contributors to VOA and its sister network Radio Free Asia.