Vietnam jails former radio journalist, arrests freelancers over 'distorted information'

HANOI (AFP) - Vietnam on Friday (July 9) jailed a former radio journalist on an anti-state charge, state media said, after several other reporters were taken into custody in recent weeks.

The hardline administration moves swiftly to stamp out dissent and arrest critics, especially those who find an audience on social media platforms.

On Friday, Mr Thanh Pham Chi , a 68-year-old pro-democracy activist fiercely critical of the regime on Facebook, was imprisoned for 5½ years on the charge of "making, hoarding, disseminating and spreading information and documents against the socialist republic of Vietnam", according to state-run Vietnam News Agency.

The Vietnam News Agency report quoted the Hanoi court's verdict that Mr Thanh, a former editor of state-controlled radio station Voice of Vietnam, had spread on his Facebook account "distorted information that caused social concern" and giving interviews to foreign media outlets.

Mr Daniel Bastard of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Mr Thanh's sentencing "speaks volumes about Vietnamese authorities' gross disregard for the rule of law and the country's Constitution".

"Pham Chi Thanh embodies Vietnamese citizens' fight for independent, truthful information," he said, adding that Mr Thanh is the "latest victim of the much harsher line that the government has been taking for the past five years", he added.

Vietnamese police last month also arrested 51-year-old Dung Le Van, also known as Dung Vova, on the same accusation as Mr Thanh. Mr Dung had been on the run for more than a month before the arrest.

As a freelancer, Mr Dung had posted live reports on Facebook and Youtube discussing the country's socio-economic and political situation, including its relations with neighbouring China.

State media have also reported the recent arrests of at least four freelance journalists for "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state".

The four in the "Clean Journalism" group - an investigative reporting team - had openly discussed several controversial issues, including clearing the name of some death-row prisoners and a land dispute in the Dong Tam commune near Hanoi.

Vietnam bans all independent media outlets, and is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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