BANGKOK – Vietnamese authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Le Manh Ha and stop treating independent journalists as criminals for merely doing their jobs of reporting the news, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On Tuesday, October 25, the People’s Court of Tuyen Quang province sentenced Ha after a two-day trial to eight years in prison to be followed by five years of house arrest for violating Article 117 of the penal code, an anti-state provision that bars “making, storing, distributing or spreading” news or information against the state, according to news reports.
The ruling said Ha produced 21 video clips and 13 articles that the court deemed as “propaganda against the socialist state of Vietnam” and posted them to his Voice of the People Le Ha TV (TDTV) YouTube-based news channel and personal Facebook page, according to the same reports.
Ha pleaded innocent to the charges at his trial and indicated he would appeal directly after the verdict was handed down, according to a U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia report that quoted his defense lawyers.
“Vietnamese authorities must free journalist Le Manh Ha, who was wrongly convicted and harshly sentenced to eight years in prison for merely doing his job as a journalist,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Vietnam must stop equating independent journalism with criminal behavior and release all the journalists it wrongfully holds behind bars.”
Ha was arrested by plainclothes police in Tuyen Quang City on January 12, 2022, after which police raided his house and seized 20 books, two laptop computers, and a cellphone, according to multiple news reports.
Days before his arrest, Ha posted a commentary on Facebook about the “unequal fight” in eliminating official corruption, according to a U.S. Congress-funded Voice of America report.
The report said Ha’s TDTV channel often discusses legal matters related to state land grabs, a politically sensitive issue in the Communist Party-ruled nation, and he airs interviews with state land grab victims.
CPJ’s email to Vietnam’s Ministry of Public Security did not immediately receive a response. Vietnam is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists, with at least 23 members of the press behind bars for their work at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2021 prison census.