Authorities Urged to Investigate Attack

Vietnam must act to avoid a 'culture of impunity' around media killings.

2011.02.01
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lehoanghungbed305.jpg Le Hoang Hung's bed was turned to cinders in the attack.
Dong Thap

A press freedom organization has called on Vietnamese authorities to urgently investigate the death of a journalist believed to have been targeted for reporting on controversial issues.

Le Hoang Hung, 51, had worked as a reporter for Nguoi Lao Dong (Worker) for more than ten years, covering the Mekong Delta provinces of Long An, Tien Giang and Ben Tre in southern Vietnam.

"Le Hoang Hung's death must be fully and independently investigated, and his killer brought to justice," said Shawn Crispin, Southeast Asia representative for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

"Media killings are rare in Vietnam and authorities should act to ensure that a culture of impunity does not begin to take root."

Police are investigating the attack, but no suspects have yet been identified, according to local media.

Attacked in his sleep

Le Hoang Hung, 51, awoke in his bed in Long An province’s Tan An town on Jan. 20 at around 1:30 a.m. to an unidentified man pouring alcohol on him and igniting it before running off.

He ran to the bathroom to douse the flames while his wife and daughters came to his aid from another room.

He was rushed to the Cho Ray Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City where he was treated for third degree burns on nearly 20 percent of his body, but succumbed to his injuries on Saturday.

"The whole family was sleeping, and all of a sudden I heard my husband screaming [from the other room],” Vietnam’s Dantri.com quoted Le’s wife, Tran Thi Thuy Lieu, as saying.

“Just then, he smashed through the door with his body fully engulfed in flames. We rushed to get water to throw on him in an attempt to put out the fire.”

Tran added that her husband had received several threatening SMS messages from unknown numbers prior to the attack.

Sensitive reporting

In the aftermath of the attack, Thanh Nien Online, a Vietnamese news portal, quoted Le as saying that the incident was likely related to the work he was doing.

The Associated Press quoted Le’s colleague Nguyen Thi Ngoc Mai as saying that the journalist may have been targeted for his coverage of sensitive topics.

"He covers everything from land disputes, the police beat to health care and education," she said. "It could be revenge."

Vietnamese journalists, bloggers, and democracy activists have been targeted previously for criticizing the government and exposing corruption.

News outlets are overseen by communist party censors who hold weekly meetings with senior editors to criticize transgressions and guide coverage.

Reported by Joshua Lipes.

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