Vietnam Upholds Sentences against Two Bloggers for Anti-state Propaganda

Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy (right) and Nguyen Huu Thien An at the first trial in August 2016

by Defend the Defenders, December 26, 2016

The Higher People’s Court in Vietnam’s central city of Danang on December 26 rejected appeals of two young bloggers Nguyen Huu Quoc Duy and Nguyen Huu Thien An, saying they were guilty of conducting anti-state propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code.

The court upheld the three-year imprisonment for Duy and two-year jail for An given by the People’s Court of Vietnam’s central province of Khanh Hoa on August 23 for their postings on their Facebook pages.

Duy was arrested on Nov 27, 2015 while his cousin An was detained three months earlier.

According to the indictment, An often surfed reactionary websites defaming the country. On April 17 last year, he drew a reactionary slogan on the wall of the headquarters of Vinh Phuoc ward police in Nha Trang city.

The indictment also said the duo regularly accessed websites producing information against the Vietnamese state between 2009 and November 2015. In 2015, he compiled and shared scores of articles distorting policies and guidelines of the ruling communist party and its government.

Duy, who has been placed under incommunicado since late November last year, said he was informed about the appeal court one day ahead of the hearing and had not allowed to meet with his lawyers in advance to prepare for his defense.

Duy was reportedly denied family visits by the authorities and the only correspondence he had been permitted with his family had been to send short notes confirming that he had received goods and materials that his family had delivered to him through the authorities of the facility where he is being detained.

One day prior to the first trial, Rafendi Djamin, director of Southeast Asia and Pacific Program of the London-based Amnesty International sent a letter to Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Nguyen Thanh Son, who is also general director of the Permanent Office on Human Rights of Vietnam, to urge Vietnam’s government to release the two young men unconditionally and immediately.

According to the information that Amnesty International received, since his arrest last year, Duy has been unable to maintain significant contact with his family. He was not allowed to hire lawyer in his choice but to accept a lawyer appointed by the local authorities.

Amnesty International said the continuing denial of Duy’s access to his family may amount to cruel and inhuman treatment as was in violation of the prohibition in Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in which Vietnam is a party and in Article 16 of the Convention against Torture (UNCAT), which was ratified by Vietnam in February 2015.

After the first trial, Amnesty International said the convictions of two young activists showed Vietnam’s failure to address the increased willingness of local people to express dissent, Amnesty International has said.

The London-based human rights body said however offensive their postings may be, their activities are protected by the right to freedom of expression. International human rights law includes expression that may be regarded as deeply offensive. And while it could be legitimate to treat an act of spray painting on a police station as a minor act of criminal damage, an offence of “conducting propaganda against the state”, particularly when applied to a statement which does not incite violence, is not consistent with international human rights law.

The UN Human Rights Committee has explicitly underlined that states should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as their administration. The same applies to criticism of political parties or systems, the human rights organization said.

Duy and An are among twenty activists jailed for political reasons this year. In late March, Vietnam imprisoned eight political dissidents and bloggers, including prominent blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sam) and Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (aka Nguyen Ngoc Gia) with heavy sentences up to five years in jail.

Vietnam has also arrested a number of other activists, including human rights lawyer Nguyen Van Dai and his assistant Le Thu Ha, who were held from December 16 last year on allegation under Article 88 without being tried.

Vietnam has little tolerance for government criticism. It has imposed a number of controversial articles such as Articles 79, 88, 245 and 258 to silence local dissent. According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding around 130 prisoners of conscience.

At the 13th Human Rights Dialogue with Vietnam on August 4, Australia expressed concern over ongoing restrictions on civil and political rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly. It reiterated its serious concerns about the harassment, arrest and detention of peaceful human rights activists. Canberra also called on Hanoi to amend or remove provisions in the Penal Code that criminalize peaceful dissent.