A journalist known for covering sensitive issues for a newspaper in southern Vietnam has been badly burned in an attack by an unknown assailant.
Le Hoang Hung, 51, has worked as a reporter for Nguoi Lao Dong (Worker) for more than ten years, covering the southern Mekong Delta provinces of Long An, Tien Giang and Ben Tre.
Le 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. Le 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.
Thanh Nien Online, a Vietnamese news portal, quoted Le, who is in critical but stable condition, as saying that the incident was likely related to the work he was doing.
"The culprit may have done his research and knew the layout of the house quite well,” Le said, adding that after the attack, he saw a person running out of his home and over the balcony at about 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 20.
"I’ve been working on the first floor and sometimes fall asleep here. This room has many windows," he said.
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."
According to Cong An, a Vietnamese Police Department newspaper, authorities are investigating the incident and looking for the suspect.
The newspaper said Le had returned home on the afternoon of Jan. 19 from Tien Giang, where he was on assignment, and phoned his friends to meet at a coffee shop at the Long An stadium in Tan An.
He spoke of several new social issues he planned to write about and said that on Jan. 20 he would attend a court pretrial of a land grab case involving 84 industrial workers.
Early that morning, the newspaper said, neighbors were awoken by cries for help. They found Le suffering from his burns.
"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.
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.
Nguyen Anh Tuan, founder of popular online newspaper VietNamNet, said he faced harassment after promoting debate on government policy and the leadership selection process ahead of the Communist party’s five-year congress.
Also serving as editor-in-chief, Nguyen has faced fines, firing, and had his website attacked by sophisticated hackers in recent months.
In 2009, blogger Dieu Cay, also known as Nguyen Van Hai, was jailed for 2-1/2 years on tax evasion charges after he tried to persuade people to protest Olympic torch ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City.
That same year journalist Huynh Nguyen Dao was released from prison after completing a 30-month jail sentence for circulating Internet material criticizing the government.
New measures were introduced on Jan. 20, 2009 requiring bloggers to provide personal information and forbidding them from disseminating material banned by Vietnam’s press law.
Blog platform hosts are required to regularly provide the government with information about the activities of their clients.
The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has accused Vietnam of mounting a sophisticated and sustained attack on online dissent that includes detaining and intimidating anti-government bloggers.
Reported by Joshua Lipes and Minh-Ha Le.