Vietnam arrests former health teacher for ‘anti-state propaganda’

Activist is latest to be detained under Article 117, used to silence dissent.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.07.17
Vietnam arrests former health teacher for ‘anti-state propaganda’ Duong Tuan Ngoc, a teacher in Vietnam, did live streams on health, education, social issues on Facebook and YouTube.
Duong Tuan Ngoc Facebook

Vietnamese authorities have detained a former health teacher Duong Tuan Ngoc for posts he made on social media about education, health, and social issues that criticized the government, police reports and family members said.

Ngoc, 38, was once a nutrition teacher in the southern province of  Lam Dong. The Lam Dong police summoned him on July 10, and he was detained the next day, his wife Bui Thanh Diem Ngoc, told Radio Free Asia’s Vietnamese Service. 

The police said the detention is for an investigation on charges of anti-state propaganda in connection with videos he posted to Facebook and YouTube.

The exact law he is charged with violating is the vaguely written Article 117, which Amnesty International has described as being “commonly used to suppress legitimate dissent in Vietnam” and “a favored tool of the authorities to arbitrarily imprison journalists, bloggers and others who express views that do not align with the interests of the Communist Party of Vietnam.”

So far this year, at least six other activists, independent journalists and Facebook users have been arrested under Article 117 with prison terms ranging from five years and six months to eight years in prison, according to RFA statistics.

Mrs. Ngoc said her husband was called in on July 10 when police received an anonymous accusation that Mr. Ngoc was selling drug-related products on his Facebook account. At the police station, Mr. Ngoc was asked to admit that an offending account belonged to him.

“He said that he did not do anything wrong,” Mrs. Ngoc said. “The next day, we were asked to appear at the police station again without any stated reason.”

On their second visit, the husband and wife were put in separate rooms for interrogation. Later that night, police searched their house and confiscated phones, laptops, computers and cameras.

Mrs. Ngoc said that she was allowed to keep three of her own phones, and was let go after two days of interrogation, during which she was asked if she had helped her husband edit his online posts. 

She has not seen her husband since the 11th, nor has she been allowed to send him clothes or anything else he might need. On Sunday, she received the written police notice of her husband’s emergency detention. 

Long list of accusations

Signed by Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Thai Thanh on July 15, the notice accused Ngoc of a litany of alleged crimes, including attacking socialism, distorting history, denying revolutionary achievements, slandering the socialist regime, defaming national founder Ho Chi Minh and infringing upon the lawful rights and interests of the state – all in violation of Article 117.

However, the police did not specify which social media posts or videos broke the law, she said.

RFA attempted to contact the Lam Dong police for an explanation, but the person who answered the phone said responses to inquiries could only be given in person.

Mr. Ngoc’s most recent Facebook post, on July 10, praised a lifestyle close to nature in Vietnam’s countryside. His personal page has more than 45,000 followers and has an introductory description declaring, “I have rights as a citizen. You have rights as citizens. Citizens are the rightful owners of the country.”

His YouTube account “Freelance Education” was established in July 2019, and he has around 34,000 followers and hundreds of videos about health, medicine, and life in the countryside.

Ngoc’s wife said that the couple had previously lived in Ho Chi Minh City, southern Vietnam’s economic hub, but they recently moved to Lam Ha in March 2022.

They both graduated from Ho Chi Minh University of Economics and hold master’s degrees. 

Mr. Ngoc taught college students online. He has made more than 684 videos and posted thousands of articles on medicine, health, education, economy, and many other social issues.

Prior to Mr. Ngoc’s detention, the couple sold a variety of organic and medicinal agricultural products. Since moving to Lam Ha, they have focused on gardening and producing organic goods, and selling them on social media.

Authorities targeted Mr. Ngoc because he was a champion of raising awareness of human values, an activist from Ho Chi Minh City told RFA on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

“The teacher aims at human values, truth and liberal education in the clips he makes,” the activist said. “I feel that he only wants to contribute to the community with a correct view about the country's situation. Besides that, I don't see any sense in the charges they put in the detention notice.”

The activist said that in Ngoc’s videos, he never mentioned any specific part of the government or any named person, so the charges don’t make sense.

Le Quoc Quan, a former prisoner of conscience-turned-lawyer, told RFA that she has been following Ngoc’s videos for a long time.

“I am very impressed and have sympathy for Mr. Duong Tuan Ngoc because I think his presentations on social issues are very interesting, humorous, and very true,” she said. “After all, I find that Duong Tuan Ngoc is a talented person, and what he reflects is true and humorous. He deserves to be applauded instead of being arrested.”

Quan said what Ngoc said was true, even if it was sometimes sarcastic and humorous. 

She described application of Article 117 as “a net dredging up everything so that anyone can be attributed with slander or libel.”

Translated by An Nguyen. Edited by Eugene Whong.

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