Journalist targeted for comments on air crashes

Mai Phan Loi could face criminal prosecution for his comments

Mai Phan Loi could face criminal prosecution for his comments

A prominent journalist has been dismissed by his newspaper, and could face criminal charges, over comments he posted about the crashes earlier this month of an air force jet and a coast guard plane that was sent to search for survivors.

Mai Phan Loi, one of six civil society activists allowed to meet President Obama during his visit in May, has already been subjected to repeated interrogations by police and had his press card revoked by the authorities.

There are calls in state media for him to be prosecuted under Article 258 – on charges of abusing democratic freedoms to damage the interests of the state.

His treatment reflects the acute embarrassment and sensitivity of the government over the loss of the two aircraft, at a time when it is trying to build up military defences  to confront  China in the South China Sea.

Mai Phan Loi could face criminal prosecution for his comments

The loss of the aircraft has been an acute embarrassment for the government

The Russian made Sukhoi Su-30 MK2 fighter crashed while patrolling off the northern coast on June 14 with the loss of one of its two man crew. The Airbus-manufactured Casa-212 aircraft crashed two days later, with the loss of all nine crew, while taking part in the search operation.

Mai Phan Loi was a senior editor for the Ho Chi Minh City Legal Daily and the founder of the Young Journalists’ Forum, a Facebook page with 12,000 members from all sections of the media.

He created on an online poll on the site canvassing opinions as to why the aircraft had crashed.
Comments on the forum – suggesting that the aircraft had exploded into pieces, and that corruption in the defence industries could explain poor safety standards – led to a furious backlash in state controlled media.

Loi was accused of “unethical conduct” in a series of articles in Petro Times, a newspaper run by a retired police general. Officials at the defence ministry accused him of libel.

The government has so far remained silent about the causes of the crashes, contributing to public anxiety about the performance of the defence forces at a time of increased military tension with China.
Loi heads an officially registered NGO that represents journalists and other media workers.

He issued an apology for any offence caused by the online survey, but that has not appeased the anger of officials who have accused him of offending the honour of the military and damaging the reputation of journalists.

Activists have speculated that the journalist is also being targeted for his decision to accept the invitation to meet President Obama.