Vietnamese authorities have issued a special warrant calling for the arrest of an independent journalist who evaded police following an attempt last week to detain him at his home in Hanoi, placing notices in major media outlets around the country on Tuesday, sources say.
Le Van Dung, also known as Le Dung Vova—owner of the online CHTV news channel—was away from home when police tried on May 25 to place him under arrest on charges under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for reporting on corruption and other issues deemed politically sensitive by authorities.
Unable to arrest Dung, police left instead with a laptop computer and two mobile phones belonging to Dung’s wife Bui Thi Hue, Hue told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on May 25.
Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code imposes penalties for “creating, storing, and disseminating information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” and is frequently used by authorities to stifle peaceful critics of the country’s one-party communist state.
Dung’s CHTV channel had used Facebook’s live-broadcast feature to transmit information on social issues such as land disputes and corruption, and to give ordinary citizens a chance to discuss matters of concern, drawing the attention of law enforcement and security agencies.
Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, human rights lawyer Le Quoc Quan called the special wanted order issued against Dung a normal procedure followed when any person wanted by the police can’t be found.
“However, I believe that Le Dung Vova is a person who loves his country, justice, and the truth,” Quan said.
“His livestreamed programs on Facebook and YouTube focused mainly on social realities and the kinds of current issues that attract people’s attention. He also helped people who are suffering from injustice to have their voices heard, at their own request.”
“I personally wish [Dung] safety, freedom, and even more opportunities to serve the people who pay attention to the country’s problems,” Quan said.
'Dung's case is different'
Vietnamese journalist Vo Van Tao said however that the authorities’ use of a special arrest warrant against a fugitive journalist has come as a surprise in this case.
“It surprised me that the police issued a special wanted order against Le Dung Vova, and I was also surprised by the massive media coverage accompanying it,” Vo Van Tao said.
“Although many intellectuals who raise their voices about Vietnam’s policies have been arrested, I find that Dung’s case is quite different, as his case involves a special wanted order and wide coverage in the media,” he said.
Tao said that the publicity now surrounding Dung’s case may signal a new government campaign to further stifle dissident voices in the one-party communist country.
Police are searching for Dung as if they were hunting a terrorist or mass murder, and Dung may face serious charges when he is finally found, Tao said.
Nguyen Van Hau—president of the Vietnam Lawyers’ Arbitration Center—agreed, telling RFA, “The word ‘special’ is added to a wanted order only if the criminal is dangerous or a threat to the security of the nation and the community."
“The order may also advertise a bounty for anyone catching the criminal, if such a bounty is available,” he said.
Harsh forms of persecution
With Vietnam’s media all following Communist Party orders, “the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher forms of persecution,” the press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index.
Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its report, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year.
“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. But arrests continue in 2021.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.
This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by Radio Free Asia.