Vietnamese authorities have detained the staff of a new independent news service that broadcasts videos on social media, according to an activist-lawyer involved with the news organization.
Security police had been harassing employees of Conscience TV, which has aired weekly videos on YouTube since Aug. 19, Nguyen Van Dai told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
But on Wednesday and Thursday, officers from the Hai Ba Trung district police station in Hanoi detained seven staff members, including news anchor and editor Le Thi Yen, just before they were going to air the fourth program, and forced them to stay at the station for several hours, he said.
“What we did was bring the truth to the people,” he said. “According to Vietnam’s constitution, freedom of the press and expression is a human right, and people have every right to access the internet.”
Vietnam’s press law stipulates that TV stations and Internet- and satellite-based radio broadcasters must obtain operating permits for the government, but Dai said the requirement did not apply to Conscience TV, which produces short clips up to 12 minutes long, which are uploaded onto YouTube.
“So Vietnam’s regulations can't be applied to this case, which means we do not have to ask for any permit, and our operations are not prohibited,” he said. “According to our constitution, people can do whatever is not prohibited by the constitution, so Conscience TV does not need to have permit.”
Police told Dai to read a decree about privately owned newspapers being fined 70 million-100 million Vietnamese dong (U.S. 3,113-$4,447) if they operated without a permit, he said, to give him an idea of the financial penalties for running a news organization without the government’s permission.
But he did not read the decree because Vietnam doesn’t allow privately owned newspapers, he said.
Authorities have used various tactics to detain employees of Conscience TV, Dai said.
People disguised as security personnel attacked employee Pham Dac Dat after they stopped him on a road during a traffic accident, Dai said.
“When he was harassed, some uniformed policemen came and told both parties to go to the police station,” he said. “When they got to the station, the attackers were released immediately, but [Dat] was detained.”
Dat asked the police to write a report and begin an investigation into the traffic accident and subsequent attack, he said.
Instead, the police asked him about Conscience TV, but when Dat refused to say anything, they searched him and confiscated his camera and U.S. $100, Dai said.
A second employee by the name of Cuong was involved in a similar incident on another road and forced to go to a local police station, he said.
After he refused to answer questions, police confiscated his laptop, cell phone and tablet computer.
Police also went to the home of dissident Nguyen Vu Binh, who works for Conscience TV, where they searched his house, confiscated his documents, cell phone and tablet and laptop computers, Dai said.
Police also took Yen’s cell phone and tablet and laptop computers, and forced him to work with them for several house, while another staff member named Ha remained with police for roughly 15 hours, he said.
Freelance journalist Pham Thanh, who used to work for mainstream media, told RFA that he did not see anything wrong with Conscience TV’s previous programs, the first of which was about the history of Vietnamese communists and their takeover of the government.
Some students active in democracy activities went to the Hai Ba Trung district police station to demand the release of detainees, but one told RFA that she and freelance journalist Doan Trang were attacked.
“They [police] pulled me and Trang, tearing our dresses in the back, and Trang was attacked,” said the young women who did not give her name.
The group decided to stay there until police released the Conscience TV staff members, she said.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.