Vietnamese reporter beaten unconscious for investigating illegal logging

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Vietnamese authorities to identify and punish the clandestine loggers who gave a journalist a severe beating after he discovered a large hoard of illegally-felled precious woods near Pleiku, the capital of Gia Lai province, in Vietnam’s central highlands, on 26 September.

A reporter for the official legal affairs magazine Tapchi Luatsu Vietnam(“Vietnam Lawyers’ Gazette”), Kieu Dinh Lieu was hospitalized with cerebral haemorrhaging and concussion after being beaten unconscious by his three assailants.

Although working for a media outlet allied with Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party, Lieu has specialized in covering local corruption and, in recent weeks, had been covering illegal logging and trafficking in precious woods in Gia Lai.

Shortly before the attack, he called the provincial water and forestry agency to report the presence of three trucks loaded with illegally-felled timber. The newspaper Nguoi Lao Dong reported that, after beating him unconscious, his attackers destroyed his car in order to eliminate any recording he might have might made.

“By courageously investigating corruption and illegal logging, Kieu Dinh Lieu acted in the Vietnamese public’s interest,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The beating he received is all the more shocking because Vietnamese journalists must constantly make concessions to state propaganda requirements. We urge the authorities to ensure that those responsible for this attack do not go unpunished.”

“Only one editor”

In the absence of editorially independent media outlets, Vietnamese journalists must fight to do professional reporting and to get the resulting stories published.

Pham Doan Trang, a journalist who won RSF’s Prize for Impact less than a month ago and who began her career working for the official media, said this about press freedom in Vietnam in a video sent to RSF : “Here we have about a thousand ‘official’ media outlets but only one editor, the head of the Communist Party’s propaganda department.”

Vietnam has been languishing for years near the bottom of RSF's World Press Freedom Index and is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in the 2019 Index.