A New York-based organization that promotes press freedom has called on Vietnam to “drop spurious charges” against Kim Quoc Hoa, former editor-in-chief of The Elderly newspaper.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also asked Vietnam to “allow the media to play a checking and balancing role without fear of reprisal.”
Hoa was charged earlier this week with “revealing confidential information related to national security" and "abusing freedoms and democratic rights in publishing articles that disseminated false information," a criminal offense under Article 258 of Vietnam's penal code.
Blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh, former managing editor of Thanh Nien [Youth] newspaper, told VOA Vietnamese media circles have been rocked by the prosecution.
“He [Hoa] was once bravely engaged in the anti-corruption campaign initiated by the ruling party chief," said Chenh. "But then he was fired and charged. It has dealt a blow to the anti-graft activities. That campaign has apparently become bankrupt.”
Chenh added that Hoa is the first senior editor of the state-owned newspaper to be prosecuted under article 258, a vague and broad anti-state law widely criticized by rights group for criminalizing dissent.
“The accusations mark a trend of legal harassment against journalists who probe sensitive corruption issues in Vietnam,” CPJ said.
In recent years, The Elderly launched a massive investigation into the misuse of state funds, leading to reprimands for several senior officials.
CPJ criticized the Vietnamese government for maintaining tight control over the press, with 16 reporters in jail in 2014. But Hanoi has always denied the charge, saying it observes its human rights obligations.
Meanwhile, U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal said he will continue to back rights defenders in Vietnam after visiting some of them last week in the Southeast Asian country.
“They were arrested not because they did anything wrong, but because they were fighting for freedom, and they were speaking out. They are people fighting for other people, and I just wanted to be counted to be as somebody who is supporting them,” he said.
Lowenthal, a Democrat from California, met with members of Vietnam's civil society during an official visit to the country, praising them for playing a significant part in expanding the space for freedom through social media.
Speaking in Hanoi earlier this week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski said Vietnamese civil society activists, bloggers, independent journalists and other critics of the government “still too often face harassment, threats and even violence for exercising what ought to be their internationally recognized human rights.”
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.