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Vietnamese Blogger Free After Serving 5-Year Sentence

Vietnamese blogger and VOA contributor Le Anh Hung, right, is pictured on July 5, 2023, with an unidentified woman. (Facebook/Le Quoc Quan)
Vietnamese blogger and VOA contributor Le Anh Hung, right, is pictured on July 5, 2023, with an unidentified woman. (Facebook/Le Quoc Quan)

A Vietnamese blogger who contributed to Voice of America was released from prison Wednesday after serving a 5-year prison sentence.

Le Anh Hung told VOA that authorities forced him to undergo psychiatric treatment while he was imprisoned.

The 50-year-old blogger was arrested on July 5, 2018, and held in pre-trial detention until August 2022 when a court convicted him of “abusing democratic freedoms.”

Le spoke with VOA shortly after he returned home Wednesday from Ba Sao prison in Ha Nam.

“After I was arrested, they forced me to take psychiatric assessments twice. They surreptitiously sent me for assessment without notifying my lawyers or my family,” he said.

The journalist said that he and his family objected to the forced treatment, which he called an act of “poisoning” people held in pre-trial detention.

“I've sent out petitions to oppose this treatment, but it didn’t work,” he said. “I am against using drugs, or injecting psychotropic drugs into my body, which I think are toxic. For more than three years I lived in such a poisoned situation.”

Le was well-known inside the country for his criticism of the Vietnamese government. The blogger also used to contribute to VOA’s Vietnamese Service.

“We are pleased that Le Anh Hung has been released,” said a VOA spokesperson this week. “We look forward to being in touch with him.”

Le said he was arrested in 2018 after displaying a banner that accused party officials of wrongdoing.

He says that authorities did not give him the chance to provide evidence to back up the claims and they instead prosecuted him.

“When I embarked on this path of advocacy, I realized that being arrested and imprisoned is part of this fight, so I was not surprised, and ready for it,” Le Anh Hung said.

VOA contacted the Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Hanoi City Police, and the High People's Court in Hanoi for comment but did not receive a response.

Nguyen Vu Binh, an activist and friend of Le’s, told VOA that he was pleased the blogger had been released.

“An ordinary person in a mental hospital for more than three years, being injected and taking psychotropic drugs is something few can imagine. He overcame it, he went through hell on Earth to return to his family and friends,” Nguyen said.

Other rights activists have similarly been put through psychiatric treatment while awaiting trial, including Nguyen Thuy Hanh.

The 59-year-old, who was charged with “propaganda against the state,” was forced to undergo a month-long psychiatric evaluation, followed by months of treatment while in pre-trial detention last year, her husband, Huynh Ngoc Chenh, told VOA.

Her case and Le’s were cited in a June 2022 report by CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society organizations.

“A frequent form of psychological abuse consists in sending political prisoners to mental health institutions against their will, even if they have no history of mental illness,” the report said. “Another harsh aspect of prison treatment is the use of solitary confinement to isolate political prisoners and punish them for asserting their rights.”

Vietnam has the third worst environment for media freedom globally, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The Vietnamese government dismisses these concerns, saying previously it only arrests those who “break the law.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists found that 21 journalists were detained there for their work as of December last year. Among those were Le and three other journalists who contribute to VOA or its sister networks at the U.S. Agency for Global Media.

They include blogger and VOA contributor Pham Chi Dung, and three bloggers who contribute to Radio Free Asia: Nguyen Van Hoa, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Truong Duy Nhat.

This story originated in VOA’s Vietnamese Service.