Vietnam National Security Police Confirm Arrest Of Prominent Writer Truong Huy San For Facebook Post

BANGKOK (AP) — Authorities in Vietnam announced Friday that they have charged prominent journalist and historian Truong Huy San with violating a national security law because of writing he had posted on Facebook, the website of the newspaper Tuoi Tre and other state media reported.

The reports citing the Security Investigation Agency of the Ministry of Public Security said San, better known by his pen name Huy Duc, was charged with “abusing the rights of freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the State, the rights and legitimate interests of organizations and individuals.”

A lawyer, Tran Dinh Trien, was also charged under the same Article 331 of the Penal Code, according to the reports, which said both men were ordered detained for prosecution and that security officials were to carry out searches of their workplaces and homes. The offense is punishable by two to seven years in prison.

Trien is a former deputy director of the Hanoi Bar Association who has been involved in many high=profile legal cases. His arrest was also related to commentary about the government that he had posted on Facebook, said the report.

The announcement was the first official confirmation of the men's detention. It was not clear if or how their cases were connected.

San's arrest “represents an alarming attack on freedom of the press and is the latest in an ongoing crackdown on reformers,” said a statement from The 88 Project, a multinational group that monitors human rights in Vietnam. It urges the United States to sanction Hanoi for its repression of dissent.

News of San’s detention in the capital Hanoi initially came from the tight-knit community of Vietnamese online dissidents. San had been due to attend a small public event in Hanoi on June 1, but failed to turn up, leading his friends to discover that police had been to his home and taken him away. They spread the news on social networks.

Content on his Facebook page, which had more than 350,000 followers, disappeared on June 2, with no explanation.

Several days before his disappearance, San had posted writing critical of the government led by Communist Party Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong, who has been shaking up the country’s top leadership as part of an ongoing anti-corruption campaign.

Late last month, Public Security Minister To Lam was promoted to become president, after his predecessor resigned, in what some analysts believe was part of a series of shakeups related to who may eventually become the new party general secretary, succeeding the 80-year-old Trong, who is expected to relinquish the post by 2026.

The 2024 World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam at an abysmal 174th out of 180 countries and territories. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls Vietnam “the fifth worst jailer of journalists worldwide,” with at least 19 reporters locked up as of December last year.

The two press freedom groups, along with PEN America, a freedom of expression organization, this week had issued public appeals for San’s release.

San has long been one of Vietnam’s most popular social commentators and a frequent critic of the country’s communist government. Now in his early sixties, he has been an independent journalist since 2009 when he was fired from a newspaper job because of his political opinions.

He is also the author of “The Winning Side,′ a well-regarded two-volume study of post-war Vietnam and its reunification.

Prior to becoming a journalist, San was an officer in the Vietnamese Army for eight years, serving in the brief 1979 border war against China and also in Cambodia, which Vietnam invaded in late 1978 to oust the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

He held a Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship at the University of Maryland’s Merrill College of Journalism in 2005-2006 and was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University in 2012-2013. He was featured in an on-camera interview in Ken Burns’ 2017 documentary “The Vietnam War.”

“The articles of independent journalist Huy Duc are an invaluable source of information enabling the Vietnamese public to access censored information by the Hanoi regime," Cédric Alviani, Asia-Pacific Bureau director of Reporters Without Borders, said shorty before the official announcement of San's arrest. “We call on the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release this journalist and to reinstall his Facebook page.”