This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal announced on Friday that he has officially adopted Vietnamese journalist Nguyen Van Hoa, an RFA contributor jailed for seven years in Vietnam, as a prisoner of conscience under the Defending Freedoms Project, a project of the congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Under the project, U.S. lawmakers work to raise awareness of the cases of their adopted prisoners, advocating for their freedom or for a reduction in their sentences, and calling attention to the laws or state policies that led to their unjust imprisonment.
“I am proud to adopt Nguyen Van Hoa as a prisoner of conscience,” Lowenthal said in a Sept. 25 statement released by the California representative’s office.
“He is a man of conviction, who has been wrongly abused, detained, and imprisoned for trying to cover issues important to the Vietnamese people, but which are uncomfortable for the Vietnamese government to hear.”
Nguyen Van Hoa, 24, was jailed by the People’s Court of Ha Tinh in Nghe An province on Nov. 27, 2017 after filming protests outside the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group steel plant, whose spill in 2016 killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces.
Nguyen, who had blogged and produced videos for RFA, was arrested on Jan. 11, 2017 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state under Article 258 of the Penal Code, but the charges against him were later upgraded to the more severe “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88.
Lowenthal had previously advocated for Nguyen’s release, writing letters to Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc calling for the blogger to be freed, and to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling for U.S. government in the case.
Three other Vietnamese prisoners of conscience—Nguyen Tien Trung, Nguyen Cong Chinh, and Nguyen Van Dai—have already been freed, due in part to Lowenthal’s advocacy on their behalf, the congressman’s office said.
Others also held
Two other contributors to RFA are also held in jail in Vietnam.
Nguyen Tuong Thuy, a blogger and vice president of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vietnam, was arrested in May and charged with “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes.” Still awaiting trial, he is now in custody at the Police Detention Camp on Phan Dang Luu Street in Ho Chi Minh City.
And in March 2019, RFA contributing blogger Truong Duy Nhat was sentenced to 10 years in prison, upheld in August on appeal, following his conviction in what authorities called a land-fraud case. He had been abducted in Bangkok in January 2019 and taken by force back to Vietnam after applying for asylum in Thailand.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. About 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” The Paris-based watchdog group said.
“As Vietnam’s media all follow the Communist Party’s orders, the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher harsh forms of persecution, including plainclothes police violence,” RSF said.
Vietnam has increasingly rounded up independent journalists, bloggers, and other dissident voices as authorities already intolerant of dissent seek to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.