This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 22 September 2015.
Reporters Without Borders is relieved by blogger Ta Phong Tan’s release after three years in prison on an anti-state propaganda charge but points out that 15 other citizen-journalists are still detained in Vietnam.
A former policewoman held since 5 September 2011, Ta Phong Tan was released on 19 September 2015 and immediately boarded a flight to Los Angeles for exile in the United States. In September 2012, she was sentenced to ten years in prison for criticizing corruption and human rights violations in the police and judicial system on her blog “Cong Ly v Su That” (Justice and Truth).
She was greeted on arrival in Los Angeles by Nguyen Van Hai, who is better known by the blog name of Dieu Cay and who was sentenced at the same time as Tan to 13 years in prison. Like Tan, he was forced into exile in the United States when released in October 2014. He and Tan are co-founders of the Free Journalists Club.
Tan has paid dearly for her commitment to free speech. Her mother took her own life by setting fire to herself outside the People’s Committee building in the southern town of Bac Lieu on 20 July 2012 in protest against Tan’s detention. Tan went on hunger strike for more than three weeks in May 2014 in protest against the mistreatment of political prisoners.
Vietnam continues to be one of the world’s biggest prisons for bloggers and online information activities.
Tran Anh Kim, a 66-year-old member of the Bloc 8406 pro-democracy movement and recipient of the Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett award in 2009, has been held in secret since his arrest yesterday in the northern province of Thai Binh.
After his arrest on a charge of anti-state propaganda under article 88 of the criminal code in July 2009, he spent more than five years in prison and was not released until last January.
“We are delighted to learn that Ta Phong Tan has been freed after being held for three years in deplorable conditions,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
“At the same time, we would also like to point out that 15 bloggers and citizen-journalists are still in Vietnamese jails for exercising their right to provide their fellow citizens and the rest of the world with information, including information about the state of human rights in Vietnam. We again call on the authorities to release all of them.”
As legal grounds for jailing dissidents, the Vietnamese authorities have recourse to an arsenal of arbitrary laws with systematically vague wording such as article 258 of the criminal code, under which “abusing democratic freedoms” is punishable by imprisonment.
Police violence against bloggers is also particularly worrying, especially as the authorities often enlist members of the criminal underworld to carry out these acts of violence. The choice of targets and the brutality used indicate that the regime is taking an increasingly harder line with dissent.
Reporters Without Borders published a damning report entitled “Programmed death of freedom of information” in September 2013. The jailing of citizen-journalists and bloggers continued in 2014.
Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of the 15 citizen-journalists still detained in Vietnam:
Held since 12 February 2015: Pham Minh Vu – Blogger
Held since 27 December 2014: Nguyen Ngoc Gia (Nguyen Dinh Ngoc) – Blogger
Held since 5 May 2014: Nguyen Huu Vinh – Ba Sam
Held since 5 May 2014: Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy
Held since 11 February 2014: Bui Thi Minh Hang
Held since 11 September 2013: Ngo Hao – Online activist
Held since 19 October 2012: Dinh Nguyen Kha – Blogger
Held since 1 December 2011: Le Thanh Tung
Held since 19 September 2011: Tran Vu Anh Binh – Online activist
Held since 30 July 2011: Dang Xuan Dieu – Vietnam Redemptorist News
Held since 30 July 2011: Ho Duc Hoa – Vietnam Redemptorist News
Held since 25 July 2011: Nguyen Van Ly
Held since 28 April 2011: Nguyen Cong Chinh – Preacher, online activist
Held since April 2011: Nguyen Ngoc Cuong
Held since 7 July 2010: Tran Huynh Duy Thuc
In July 2013, Reporters Without Borders launched a petition for the release of bloggers held by the Vietnamese authorities. Some of them have since been freed but the fight continues.
Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.