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Blogger Huy Duc arrested amid escalating crackdown on rights

The Vietnamese authorities should immediately release the prominent journalist, blogger, and author Huy Duc and drop all charges against him, Human Rights Watch said today. Police in Hanoi detained Huy Duc (the pen name of Truong Huy San) on June 1, 2024, and charged him with “abusing the rights to democracy and freedom to infringe upon the interests of the state” under article 331 of the penal code, an overly broad law that the authorities frequently use against critics of the government.

The authorities waited seven days before notifying Huy Duc’s family of his arrest and detention, effectively forcibly disappearing him and raising concerns about his safety. Since his detention, neither his lawyer nor his family have been permitted to meet with him.

“By wrongfully arresting Huy Duc, the Vietnamese authorities are targeting one of Vietnam’s most courageous and influential journalists,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “International donors and Vietnam’s trade partners should denounce Huy Duc’s arrest as a blatant assault on free expression and urge his immediate release.”

Huy Duc was born in Ha Tinh province in north-central Vietnam in 1962. He joined the military at age 18 and served in Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia during the mid-1980s. In 1988, during a rare reformist moment in postwar Vietnam when the Communist Party media were undergoing an unprecedented liberalization, he joined the staff of Youth Newspaper (Bao Tuoi Tre) in Ho Chi Minh City, where he earned a reputation as a dogged reporter covering the country’s politics. Years later, when writing for the newspaper Saigon Marketing (Sai Gon Tiep Thi), Huy Duc broke a major corruption scandal involving sweetheart deals and shady land purchases by members of the prime minister’s family.

As his journalistic efforts started to attract international attention, Huy Duc received a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship to study at the University of Maryland. Returning to Vietnam in 2006, Huy Duc founded a popular blog where he continued to publish editorial commentary on pressing social and political issues. The Vietnamese authorities shut down the blog in 2010. In 2012, Huy Duc spent a year at Harvard University on a Nieman Fellowship, during which he wrote his most influential work, a journalistic account of Vietnam’s postwar era titled The Winning Side (Ben Thang Cuoc), widely considered the most important nonfiction book about postwar Vietnamese history and politics. It has never been sold publicly inside Vietnam.

Since 2020, Huy Duc has continued to write about a range of Vietnam’s social and political problems, including environmental issues like deforestation. With more than 350,000 Facebook followers, Huy Duc remains one of the most influential Vietnamese political commentators on the platform. His most recent Facebook entries prior to his arrest warned about the myriad dangers posed by the concentration of power in Vietnam’s notoriously repressive Ministry of Public Security, which To Lam, Vietnam’s new president, formerly led.

Another recent Facebook post criticized the shortcomings of an official anti-corruption campaign led by Communist Party leadership. The authorities arrested Huy Duc shortly after these two posts appeared. His Facebook page was also taken down and is no longer accessible on the internet.

In recent months, Vietnamese authorities have intensified a crackdown on critics, detaining virtually every prominent human rights activist as well as journalists, environmental activists, and others who have criticized the government or called for reforms.

“Arresting a journalist for his critical reporting just shows that the Vietnamese government is moving further and further away from democracy and the rule of law,” Gossman said. “Punishing Huy Duc for denouncing the misuse of state power and corruption should raise concerns for those expecting economic and political reforms in Vietnam in the near future.”

Human Rights Watch – June 7, 2024

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