Three journalists given lengthy prison sentences . . .
A court in Vietnam has convicted three freelance journalists of spreading “anti-state propaganda” – a loosely defined crime used to jail reporters and citizens who criticize the government. Two received prison sentences of 11 years, and the other received a sentence of 15 years. The convictions are the latest in a sustained crackdown on free speech in the lead-up to this month’s secretive and high-stakes National Congress meeting. The meeting is a twice-in-a-decade occasion for the ruling Communist Party to present its new five-year economic plan and select nearly all major positions of political power.
Political restrictions amid economic growth . . .
While Vietnam’s economic performance has impressed investors and trade partners in recent years, its media environment remains dismal. According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2020 Press Freedom Index, Vietnam ranks near the bottom – at 175 out of 180 countries. Due to the government’s tight control of traditional media, many independent reporters and citizens began relying on social media to share views and information. But the passage of a draconian cybersecurity law in 2019 gives the state sweeping powers to treat any criticism of government policy as tantamount to trying to bring down the government. The law has even been used against ordinary citizens sharing their views on Facebook.
Entanglement of trade and human rights . . .
One of the reporters sentenced this week, Pham Chi Dung, was targeted for criticizing the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement. Before his arrest in November 2019, he published an article calling on the EU to delay the trade deal until Vietnam shows progress in its human rights record. The EU proceeded with the agreement, which went into force in August. However, some have pointed out that the trade agreement could give the EU leverage in threatening to rescind the deal over human rights concerns, much as it did with Cambodia last summer. Nevertheless, while the EU parliament has raised the issue of Pham Chi Dung’s arrest with Hanoi, observers think it is unlikely EU member states would reach the unanimous agreement required to walk away from such a lucrative trade partnership.
- Al Jazeera: ‘Fear and paranoia’: How Vietnam controls its media
- Bloomberg: How Vietnam will pick new leaders
- South China Morning Post: Vietnam ramps up crackdown on dissent