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Two citizen journalists jailed for illegally broadcasting to China

(RSF/IFEX) - 10 November 2011 - Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the sentencing today of two citizen radio journalists, Vu Duc Trung and his brother-in-law Le Van Thanh, to prison terms of three years and two years respectively for illegally broadcasting radio programmes to China.

"This conviction is harsh and outrageous. We had cautioned the Vietnamese judicial system against any attempt to use the law in an abusive fashion," the press freedom organization said.

"The unlicensed transmission of programmes that were not in Vietnamese nor aimed at a Vietnamese audience should not have been characterized as anything other than an administrative offence. This verdict shows the authorities were conveying the anger of their Chinese counterparts, who were the targets of the criticism expressed in the radio programmes.

"We ask the international community to put pressure on the Vietnamese government for the immediate release of Vu Duc Trung and Le Van Thanh, as well of all journalists and bloggers who are currently suffering under a growing crackdown.

"We also appeal to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to consider the demands we set out in the letter we sent to him in September."

The two journalists were convicted in a summary trial by the Supreme People's Court of Vietnam under a section of the penal code that bans "the illegal transmission of information on a telecommunications network".

According to a witness quoted on the website of the newspaper The Epoch Times, their lawyer Tran Dien Trien asked to be shown which laws banned broadcasting into China, but received no response.

About 30 members of the Falun Gong religious movement to which the two journalists belong staged a demonstration two days ago in support of Trung and Thanh. They were detained by police and driven away by bus.

Since April 2009, Trung and Thanh had been broadcasting programmes from the radio station The Sound of Hope Network over a distance of 800 km from their farm in the town of Thach Loi, east of Hanoi.

Reporters Without Borders said on 5 April it was worried about the influence of the Chinese government in the case. On 7 September, the organization criticised a sentence of six months imprisonment handed down on the manager of the radio station Radio Era Baru, based in Indonesia, under diplomatic pressure from China. The station is also linked to the Falun Gong movement.

Vietnam is on the Reporters Without Borders list of "Enemies of the Internet" and is ranked 165th out of 178 countries in the press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders released last October. On 26 October, Reporters Without Borders launched a new awareness campaign, aimed at drawing the attention of holidaymakers to free speech and freedom of information problems in the country.

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