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Vietnam: Immediately release dissident writer

Tuesday 20 July 2021 - 10:26am

A call for the immediate release of Pham Chi Thanh

PEN International and the Vietnamese Abroad PEN Centre call for the immediate and unconditional release of Pham Chi Thanh (also known as Phạm Thành), who was sentenced to five years and six months imprisonment in retaliation for his writing, which criticised Nguyen Phu Trong, the General Secretary of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party. The organisations further call for his conviction and sentencing to be quashed.

On 9 July 2021, Pham Chi Thanh was found guilty of 'making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam' under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, legislation that has been frequently used by Vietnamese authorities to criminalise peaceful dissent and critical expression. During his trial, which lasted less than three hours, Thanh was accused of printing and disseminating writing that was critical of the Vietnamese government.

‘Vietnam's long history of curbing dissent has reached a new low with the sentencing of Pham Chi Thanh. Criminalising dissent is bad enough; ill-treating a writer in jail and prosecuting him reveals an insecurity on the government's part. Vietnam must take immediate steps to restore Thanh's freedom - he has the right to free expression and Vietnam must overturn legislation that penalises peaceful expression of criticism’, said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Pham Chi Thanh was initially arrested on 21 May 2020 at his home during a morning raid conducted by around 40 officers from Hanoi’s Public Security Department, who reportedly confiscated his computers and copies of his latest book. For the first year of his pre-trial detention, Thanh was prevented from seeing his lawyer and in May 2021 he reportedly suffered an injury after falling, resulting in a marked deterioration of his health.

A prominent journalist and writer, Pham Chi Thanh is well known for his pro-democracy blog Bà Đầm Xòe [Statue of Liberty]. Prior to the establishment of his blog, Thanh was employed at the country’s national broadcaster, Voice of Vietnam (VOV), where he rose to the position of deputy director of VOV’s print newspaper before he resigned in 2012 to focus on pro-democracy activism. In 2014, Thanh helped to establish the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, a grass-roots organisation dedicated to the promotion of press freedoms. Thanh is also the author of several self-published books that criticised Vietnam’s political system; in 2019, Thanh published a book criticizing the General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong.

Thanh’s imprisonment is the latest example of the Vietnamese authorities escalating crackdown on critical expression in the country. Numerous writers and bloggers have been detained for their writing, including Pham Doan Trang, who was arrested in October 2020 under Art. 117 and now faces up to 20 years imprisonment.

PEN International and the Vietnamese Abroad PEN Centre call for the immediate and unconditional release of Pham Chi Thanh and for his sentencing and conviction to be quashed. All those who have been wrongfully detained for their peaceful expression should be freed.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: