Vietnamese blogger Le Anh Hung, serving a five-year sentence for allegedly “abusing democratic freedoms,” may soon be released from prison, his mother told RFA.
When Tran Thi Niem visited her son in mid-December he told her he expected to be freed in July.
Niem said her son has been moved from a Hanoi police detention center to a prison in Ha Nam province, south of the capital, to serve out his term and was in good spirits.
“Le Anh Hung is still healthy, but thin,” she said. “He is mentally refreshed.”
Authorities at Nam Ha Prison would not let Niem send a gift worth U.S.$40, telling her to transfer money to them which Hung could use to buy food. Prison canteens in Vietnam charge vastly inflated prices.
The Voice of America blogger and author of many articles on Vietnamese politics was arrested in July 2018.
After more than four years in detention and forced treatment in a mental hospital he was brought to trial on Aug. 30, 2022. Hung was denied a lawyer and relatives were not allowed to attend.
It is not clear if more than three years in a mental hospital will count towards time served, even though Vietnam’s Criminal Code stipulates: “The time for compulsory medical treatment shall be deducted from the term of serving the prison sentence.”
An article in the Vietnam Lawyers online magazine last year said there are different interpretations of how much time spent undergoing compulsory medical treatment can be deducted from the remaining sentence.
Lawyers who spoke to RFA disagreed about whether the law would work in Hung’s favor.
“If the investigation was not temporarily suspended, and the accused is still the defendant, the treatment time will be counted as the time of judgment execution,” lawyer Ha Huy Son of the Hanoi Bar Association said.
Nguyen Van Miem of the Ho Chi Minh City Bar Association said in Le Anh Hung’s case, the time spent in a mental hospital is unlikely to be included in time served. However, he said the court could consider mitigating factors to reduce the sentence.
Le Anh Hung is a member of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam, an organization that has been persecuted in recent years. Chairman Pham Chi Dung, Vice Chairman Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Editor Le Huu Minh Tuan have been sentenced to between 11 and 15 years in prison for “conducting anti-state propaganda.”
After Hung’s conviction, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement calling on the Vietnamese government to immediately and unconditionally release him and “stop harassing journalists on spurious anti-state charges.”
He is among 21 journalists being detained for journalistic activities in Vietnam, according to a recent CPJ report.
Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn.