Bangkok, July 11, 2011--Authorities must stop harassing journalists reporting on public demonstrations in Vietnam, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. On Sunday, police detained and interrogated three reporters who were covering anti-China protests in Hanoi where around a dozen demonstrators were arrested.
Hau Dinh, a news assistant with Associated Press Television, was forced onto a bus by armed police while he was filming the protest near China's embassy, according to international news reports. Dinh was held in police custody for more than three hours before he was released, according to AP.
Police said that two other Vietnamese journalists, a cameraman with Japanese television broadcaster NHK and a news assistant with the Japanese daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun, were also detained. Agence France-Presse cited an NHK company statement saying that their cameraman had been released after questioning.
Reporters had previously been permitted to photograph and film the small rallies which had been held in the national capital on five consecutive Sundays. They were sparked initially by rising tensions over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Sunday's crackdown came after officials from China and Vietnam agreed in a joint statement to negotiate a peaceful solution to their competing claims. With possible oil and natural gas reserves, international boundaries in the area have long been under dispute, and many of the area's islands are claimed by both countries and several other Asian nations.
"Journalists are not pawns to be used in Vietnam's dealings with China," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Vietnam should allow free reporting of these protests. It should also release the four bloggers currently held in detention for posting materials critical of China or the government's policies towards China."
CPJ research shows that several political bloggers--Nguyen Van Hai, Pham Thanh Nghien, Pham Minh Hoang, and Phan Thanh Hai--have been imprisoned in part for posting materials critical of China or the government's policies towards China, a historical adversary.
As bilateral tensions have risen in recent months, CPJ monitoring found that the state-controlled local media had been allowed to report more freely on certain issues related China, including the territorial disputes. It's unclear whether Sunday's clampdown on protesters and reporters signals an end to that brief, limited opening.