News & Activism

The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword: Vietnam Journalist Jailed

How far are you willing to go to do the right thing?

Nguyen Van Hoa is a 22-year-old journalist living in Vietnam who reported on the effects of the Formosa Plastics Group’s chemical spill. Now, he will spend seven years in prison for it.

Formosa Plastics Group is an influential Taiwanese conglomerate which owns a steel plant in the Ha Tihn Province of Vietnam that dumped a significant amount of chemical waste including cyanide into the South China Sea in 2016.

The chemical spill knocked out several aquatic species in the regions of Vietnam devastating some of the poorest Vietnamese regions that rely on fishing as a means of getting by. Fish are found dead on local beaches in the north-central coast of Vietnam. Citizens are becoming sick.

The 2016 Formosa chemical spill is now known as one of the most destructive environmental disasters in Vietnam’s history.

Hoa simply reported on the atrocity. All he did was help inform the public on matters that affected them.

His reward includes seven years in prison followed by three years of house arrest.

According to the Tuoi Tre News, Hoa was found guilty of “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” This was at a closed trial at the People’s Court of Ha Tinh Province.

Hoa’s family was initially notified of his arrest being due to motorbike theft and drug trafficking, although these allegations have been denied by both Hoa and his family.

In the eyes of those who convicted Hoa, he ran multiple Facebook accounts and shared text posts, photos and videos that “distorted the truth” and did not align with the policies of the Communist Party and State.

The court also claimed that Hoa staged his photos and videos to exaggerate the mass fish deaths from the Formosa spill and that he gained funding from “extremists” and “reactionary individuals.”

The New York Times reported that deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division Phil Robertson said, “The sentencing of Nguyen Van Hoa shows how profoundly the government’s paranoid desire to maintain political control trumps notions of justice and human rights.”

He continued: “How else can one explain that executives of an international firm that poisoned the ocean, ruining the coastal economy in four provinces, are free to go about their business while this idealistic young journalist is heading to prison for helping expose their misdeeds?

This is not the first time something like this has happened.

Back June, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh was sentenced to ten years in prison for also reporting on the environmental disaster that is the Formosa toxic spill. Quynh was more popularly known as Mother Mushroom and was rewarded with the International Woman of the Courage Award, presented by First Lady Melania Trump.

According to Mongabay, Quynh’s daughter reached out to Melania Trump and asked her to intervene on account of Quynh since President Donald Trump would be visiting Vietnam in November. However, no response from Melania Trump, if there was one, was publicized.

In a recent study noted by The Guardian, “Media freedom around the world has fallen to the lowest level for at least a decade” because “journalists are threatened by government censorship, organized crime and commercial pressures caused by the growth of the internet.”

Vietnam is a prime example of media freedom falling below any standard, but the main source of this injustice comes from its government.

While Vietnam desperately wants to be perceived as in control, the rest of the world easily sees the its ideals of injustice slip from its grasp.

Cover image via Mongabay

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