On September 23, 2020, Pham Dinh Quy, a professor at Ton Duc Thang University in the Vietnamese province of Dak Lak, was taken into custody in connection with articles he published criticizing a local Communist Party official. He was formally charged with slander, a criminal offense under Vietnamese law, one week later.
Dak Lak police took Pham into custody while he was dining out with his wife in retaliation for articles he had published online and in print, alleging that local Communist Party head Bui Van Cuong had plagiarized his doctoral thesis. According to a report by the BBC’s Vietnamese bureau, Pham found that 70% of the contents in three chapters were copied from sources that were not cited in his thesis.
On September 30, Pham was formally charged with slander under Article 156 of the Vietnamese Penal Code. In addition, the articles were taken down from the Journal of Environment and Society, the online publication where they had been posted, the publication was reportedly fined 50 million Vietnamese Dong (about $2,200 US), and its print version was suspended for two months. If convicted, Pham faces fines and a maximum of two years in prison.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of a scholar in retaliation for claims made in an academic journal concerning academic work, as well as about censorship and financial penalties targeting an academic journal for the publication of such statements. While alleged acts of slander may be challenged in court, such challenges, whether brought by individuals or by state authorities, must be consistent with relevant international human rights standards, including the right to academic freedom and freedom of expression — rights that are protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Vietnam is a party. Arrests, prosecutions, and the temporary suspension of a journal’s right to publish, in retaliation for alleged acts of slander, are inconsistent with relevant norms. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such actions chill academic freedom and harm democratic society generally.