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A court in Vietnam on Tuesday handed down jail sentences of more than a decade each to three journalists found guilty of spreading propaganda against the state.

Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan, prominent members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, were charged with “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items that contain distorted information about the people’s government.” After a half day trial, Dung was given a 15-year jail term, while Thuy and Tuan were sentenced to 11 years in prison.

They wrote stories to “distort and defame the people’s administration, infringe the interests of the Communist Party of Vietnam and state,” the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.
Le Huu Minh Tuan (aka Le Tuan) penned articles on topics including the Hong Kong protests and civil society in Russia. He was arrested in June 2020.

Vietnam is considered one of the countries whose press is the least free. State oversight of the media is always tight. But control is reportedly being ratcheted up ahead of the once every five years Communist Party Congress to be held later this month.

“Even by its own deeply repressive standards, the severity of the sentences show the depths being reached by Vietnam’s censors,” said Amnesty International deputy regional director, Emerlynne Gil.

“If the ruling party is so assured in its leadership, it should demonstrate its confidence by respecting civil and political rights, ending its tight control of the press, and allowing independent journalists to freely voice their opinions instead of silencing them with arrest and long prison sentences,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Democracy dies without freedom of expression and the press, and the work of independent journalists like these three who dare expose malfeasance and demand reforms to end abuse of power,” the NGO said on Twitter.