Congressman Lowenthal Officially Adopts Vietnamese Journalist Nguyen Van Hoa As A Prisoner Of Conscience
Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) today announced that he has officially adopted journalist Nguyen Van Hoa as a prisoner of conscience through the Defending Freedoms Project of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission.
Nguyen Van Hoa is a journalist and videographer with Radio Free Asia’s (RFA) Vietnamese language service. He was arrested in January 2017 and sentenced the same year by Vietnamese authorities to seven years in prison and three years of house arrest. The Vietnamese authorities invoked Article 88 of the Vietnamese Penal Code, a vaguely defined anti-state provision that carries a maximum 20-year prison term for “conducting propaganda against the state." Article 88 is often used by the Vietnamese authorities to arrest activists and dissidents.
During his trial, authorities coerced Van Hoa into waiving representation of a defense attorney and was tried in secret without family or independent witnesses present.
“I am proud to adopt Nguyen Van Hoa as a prisoner of conscience,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “He is a man of conviction, who has been wrongly abused, detained, and imprisoned for trying to cover issues important to the Vietnamese people, but which are uncomfortable for the Vietnamese government to hear.”
Vietnamese authorities had previously beaten and confiscated Van Hoa’s equipment while he was on assignment for RFA in November 2016. In his personal capacity as a citizen journalist, Van Hoa had published videos of protests arising out of the 2016 Formosa Steel marine life disaster.
The disaster, described by the Vietnamese government as “the most serious environmental disaster Vietnam has ever faced,” occurred when toxic waste from the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel plant was illegally discharged into the ocean, killings millions of fish and devastating the fishing and tourism economy in four provinces along the central coast of Vietnam. Since 2016, Vietnamese citizens have held numerous protests over the government response to the disaster and police abuse of protestors.
Congressman Lowenthal has previously advocated for the release of Van Hoa, writing letters to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for U.S. government action in the case, and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc calling for the release of Van Hoa.
Under the Defending Freedoms Project, Congress Members seek the release or reduction of a prison sentence or the improvement of prison conditions for their adoptees, while also raising awareness about the unjust laws or policies that led to imprisonment. Congressman Lowenthal has been a member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission since joining Congress in 2013 and is currently a member of the commission’s executive committee. Due in part to his advocacy, three of the prisoners of conscience previously adopted by Congressman Lowenthal have been released.