Editor of Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre News Facing Sanctions For ‘Undermining Unity’ in Facebook Post

Nguyen Ngoc Vinh refused to write a ‘self-criticism’ after penning an article deemed divisive.

Nguyen Ngoc Vinh in Washington, in a photo from 2017.

The executive editor of Vietnam’s official Tuoi Tre newspaper, which was recently suspended for publishing “fake news,” is facing punishment after he posted an article on social media said to promote divisions between the northern and southern halves of the country.

Executive editor Nguyen Ngoc Vinh had penned an editorial on his Facebook page last month entitled “The [ruling Communist] Party’s Chief Must be From The North And Have Strong Ideology,” prompting the newspaper’s leadership to order him to write a self-criticism by July 7 for encouraging discord in Vietnam.

After he refused to write the self-criticism, his supervisors wrote him a letter dated July 26—which Vinh posted a copy of to his Facebook page on Sunday—saying that his article violated Vietnam’s laws and Tuoi Tre’s internal rules because it “gave some indication of dividing regions and undermining the people’s unity.”

The article was “not true, fabricated, and disrespects a number of organizations and individuals,” the letter said, adding that the newspaper’s management is currently reviewing his case and will issue a punishment.

Vinh on Tuesday dismissed the letter’s claims, telling RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the allegations “lacked evidence” and saying he had “done nothing wrong.”

“I have abided by all laws and Tuoi Tre’s internal rules,” he said.

“They not only quoted the rules of Tuoi Tre, but also other legal documents and ‘10 ethics that journalists must follow,’ to prove that I am wrong, but I disagree.”

He noted that “many Vietnamese journalists” write articles on social media about topics “they think are difficult to convey through official media.”

Site shut down

The accusations against Vinh came a week after authorities shut down Tuoi Tre’s online news site for three months, accusing the popular media outlet of spreading “fake news” and promoting division between North and South Vietnam.

The July 16 decision by Luu Dinh Phuc, head of the Media Department of Vietnam’s Ministry of Information and Communication, cited especially a June 19 article saying that Vietnam’s president had called for a law allowing public protests, calling the story false, local media said.

Meanwhile, a May 26, 2017 Tuoi Tre story had drawn a reader comment suggesting an absence of superhighway development projects in southern Vietnam’s Mekong Delta was due to regional bias on the part of officials in the country’s north, an opinion that officials said promoted disunity in the country.

Tuoi Tre was also handed a fine of 220 million Vietnamese dong (U.S. $9,500 approx.), and only the newspaper’s online version was affected by the suspension, media reports said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a journalist working in Vietnam described the government’s action against Tuoi Tre as a landmark in the state’s restrictions on free speech, saying, “For the press, this is an historical event, because Tuoi Tre is a symbol of the press in Saigon [Ho Chi Minh City] in particular, and more generally in Vietnam itself.”

Tight controls

Around 900 official media outlets operate in Vietnam under the oversight of the Central Committee for Propaganda and Training, according to the Ministry of Information and Communication.

Dissent is not tolerated in the Communist nation and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in April that while Vietnam’s traditional media are “completely controlled … citizen-journalists defend the freedom to inform with great courage—and the government’s response has been merciless.”

In September 2015, Do Hung, the deputy executive editor of the official Thanh Nien newspaper’s online edition, was demoted and his journalism license revoked after he posted a joke about Communist revolutionary leader founder Ho Chi Minh and late war hero Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap on his Facebook page to mark Vietnam’s National Day.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.