Vietnam Court Upholds Sentences for Prominent Blogger, His Assistant

By Defend the Defenders, September 22, 2016
The Higher People’s Court of Vietnam on September 22 upheld the imprisonment sentences for Nguyen Huu Vinh the founder and owner of well-known independent news website Anh Ba Sam, and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy in an open appeal hearing in which the judge expelled their lawyer.
In March 23, the Hanoi People’s Court sentenced Mr. Vinh to five years in prison while Ms. Thuy was given three years in jail on charge of “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interest of the state” under Article 258 of the country’s Penal Code.
Vinh, a former police officer and member of the ruling communist party, started the blog Anh Ba Sam in 2007, publishing articles and commentaries on Vietnamese political, social, economic, and cultural issues. Over the six years it was published up until the arrests of the duo in 2014, the blog had attracted several million readers in Vietnam and abroad.
According to the indictments given by the trial in March, the blog had posted 24 articles with distorted information about the ruling communist party and its government.
Since their arrest in May 2014, many democratic governments and international human rights organizations have urged Vietnam’s government to release him unconditionally and immediately, saying the use of criminal provisions by Vietnamese authorities to penalize individuals who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression is disturbing.
After the trial this year, the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam issued a statement saying Washington is deeply concerned by the Vietnamese government’s conviction and sentencing of the bloggers. These convictions appear to be inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press provided for in Vietnam’s 2013 Constitution, and with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international commitments.
Two days prior to the appeal hearing, Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling on Vietnam to quash the politically motivated convictions of two bloggers and release them from prison.
The appeal hearing was supposed to be open but some foreign diplomats were allowed to watch the trial in another room via a video feed but there was no sound for most of the time. Hundreds of activists coming from different parts of the country tried to attend the court. However, authorities in Hanoi deployed around a thousand of police officers and militia to block the areas where the court building is located and prevented activists from approaching the courtroom. Many activists, including blogger Pham Doan Trang, JB Nguyen Huu Vinh, and Trinh Ba Tu were detained and released after the trial ended.
La Viet Dung, a member of the patriotic group No-U (meaning Say No to China’s U-shaped line claim in the East Sea or South China Sea) was beaten by four plainclothes agents near the court building. Dung suffered serious injuries in the second attack against him within three months and needs urgent emergency.
Vietnamese communists have ruled the country for decades and have no desire to conduct political reforms toward multi-party democracy. Their government has used many controversial articles such as 79, 88, 245 and 258 in the Penal Code to silence local political dissidents, social activists and human rights defenders.
At least 18 activists have been sentenced to prison this year, including land right activist Can Thi Theu on September 20.
According to the New York-based Human Rights Watch, Vietnam is holding at least 130 prisoners of conscience. Hanoi always insists that only law violators are imprisoned and denies imprisoning any prisoner of conscience.
Last week, Amnesty International urged Hanoi to release 82 prisoners of conscience, including Mr. Vinh, Ms. Thuy and Mrs. Theu.