Mai Phan Loi

Current Status: Released - at risk

Photo of Mai Phan Loi

Other Names: Mai Phan Lợi

Date of Birth: 1971

Gender: M

Ethnicity: Kinh

Occupation: Journalist

Last Known Prison: Prison No. 5, Thanh Hoa province

Areas of Activism:

  • Environment
  • Press

Highlighted Human Rights Concerns:

  • Former Political Prisoner

September 2023:

Journalist Mai Phan Loi was released from prison last week, 18 months early, and just one day before President Joe Biden arrived in Hanoi. Formerly the chairman of the Science Council of the Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), which Loi and a few others created in 2012 with the blessing of the Ministry of Science, he was arrested in June 2021 and sentenced to 45 months in prison on “tax evasion” charges. The MEC itself was disbanded by the Ministry in November 2021. Neither Loi nor his family was given any notice of his early release. According to a close family friend who spoke to RFA on the condition of anonymity, officials at the U.S. Embassy had been working behind the scenes on Loi’s case, as well as those of several other environmental activists, for many months.


Ahead of Earth Day, we released our report, Weaponizing the law to prosecute the Vietnam Four, which details our investigation into the charges of tax evasion against four prominent climate activists, finding those prosecutions to be politically-motivated. The Washington Post Editorial Board highlighted the report and has called for the activists’ release from prison.

The Vietnamese version of the report is available here.

Details - Background, History of Activism.

Mai Phan Loi is from Thai Binh Province. He lives and works in Ha Noi. He is the founder and director of the nonprofit Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC) in Hanoi [5]. MEC has a communication channel called GTV which airs, among other things, several popular talk shows aimed at educating the community on various communication skills and techniques.

Loi was also editor-in-chief of Phap Luat, the most prominent state-run magazine focusing on the law. In 2016, he even got to meet former President Barack Obama in Hanoi. Shortly thereafter, however, his journalist credentials were revoked by the Ministry of Information and he had to resign from his position. The US State Department’s Human Rights Report for that year alleged that Loi’s forced removal was in part a retaliation for his meeting with the US president.

Loi is also the founder and the administrator of the famous Facebook group - Young Journalist Forum.

Profile picture: Mai Phan Loi at the time of his arrest. Source: Public Security of Ha Noi

Loi was not known for his political activism. However, he is well-known as a leading journalist with many years of experience and his liberal outlook and position.

On November 8, 2021, the Vietnam Union of Science and Technology Associations (VUSTA) declared that the MEC was dissolved. On November 30, 2021, the Ministry of Science and Technology signed a decision to disband the registration certificate in the field of science and technology of MEC.

Note: Loi was originally sentenced to 48 months in prison, which was reduced to 45 on appeal. 

Arrested June 24, 2021. Sentenced to 3 years 9 months in prison under Art. 200 (2015 Code). Released September 10, 2023.

June 24, 2021
  • Art. 200 (2015 Code)
Hanoi city public security, Hanoi
Ha Noi (map)
January 11, 2022
The People's Court of Hanoi, Hanoi
3 years 9 months in prison
June 24, 2025
September 10, 2023
  • freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention
  • liberty and security of the person
  • fair trial
Reporters Without Borders

Mai Phan Loi, founder and director of the nonprofit Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), was sentenced to four years in prison on “tax fraud” charges on January 11, 2022. He was also ordered to pay a fine of nearly 2 billion dong ($90K USD). 

June & July 2021:

Mai Phan Loi was temporarily detained on June 24 but was not officially charged and arrested until July 2. As announced by the public security, they charged him with tax evasion, a typical method of political persecution for those for whom the government does not have a strong, clear case. However, there are now several theories concerning the political reason behind his arrest.

First and foremost, Loi may have been  arrested in the prolonged campaign against freedom of the press and freedom of expression instigated by the Vietnamese Communist Party. 

He is the founder of the non-profit Media in Educating Community and the 30,000 member groups called the Young Journalists Forum. These organizations have been recognized as forces  promoting free and critical thinking. In 2016, he was stripped of his press card for making an online survey about the crash of a military Casa 212 and other related military incidents. The growing civil space that he tried to create may have led to the crackdown against him. 

Others, however, believe that his arrest might be connected with Loi’s attempts to build up a connection of NGOs under the regulation of EVFTA. These organizations can play an important role in monitoring Vietnam’s obligations under EVFTA. Read our analysis here.

January 2022:

Mai Phan Loi, founder and director of the nonprofit Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC), was sentenced to four years in prison on “tax fraud” charges on January 11. He was also ordered to pay a fine of nearly 2 billion dong ($90K USD). 

Additionally, Loi faced a “ban of  undertaking managerial positions, and will be prevented from practice or work in the field of taxation within a period of five years after his release."

Noticeably, the State media reported that Loi’s family had paid a compensation of VND 800 million (~US$ 35.600) prior to the trial. So they are responsible to repay the balance of VND 1,2 billion (~US$ 52.400) thereafter. Moreover, it was announced that Loi’s alleged crime partner, Bach Hung Duong, from 2014 to 2021, had supported Loi in evading more than VND 878 million (~US$ 39.000) from financial contributions worth nearly VND 20 billion (~US$ 840.000) that the MEC had received from domestic and foreign donors.

August 2022:

At his appeal trial, Mai Phan Loi had his sentence reduced from 48 months to 45 months. The former chairman of the Committee for Scientific Affairs of the Center for Media in Educating Community (MEC) was convicted of tax evasion. He’s said to have returned about $50,000 of the $80,000 in taxes owed.

According to the wife of political prisoner Dang Dinh Bach, the appeal trials of Mai Phan Loi and Bach Hung Duong were originally scheduled for May 2022 but postponed. 

July 2021:

Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of Mai Phan Loi on what Daniel Bastard, head of the RSF Asia-Pacific desk, calls a “trumped-up charge” and “a pretext to silence a journalist who tried to do his job to inform his fellow citizens properly.”

August 2022:

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) urges international rights groups to oppose the arrest and conviction of environmental NGO leaders using vague “tax evasion” charges. The FIDH “strongly condemns the unfair convictions, ongoing arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Dang Dinh Bach, Mai Phan Loi, Bach Hung Duong and Nguy Thi Khanh, as it seems to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate environmental and human rights activities.”

Profile last updated: 2023-09-20 19:09:15

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