Three Facebookers Convicted of “Abusing Democratic Freedom,” Sentenced to Total 45 Months in Prison
Relatives of three Facebookers- defendants not allowed to enter the courtroom during the hearing on Dec 21, 2020 (Facebook Bảo Ngọc Phạm)
Defend the Defenders, December 21, 2020
On December 21, the People’s Court of District 8 in Ho Chi Minh City found three local Facebookers named Nguyen Dang Thuong, Huynh Anh Khoa, and Tran Trong Khai guilty of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code for administrating an open Facebook group discussing Vietnam’s socio-economic issues.
The jugde concluded that the trio have posted a number of statuses in the group with the content distorting the communist regime and defaming late President Ho Chi Minh and incumbent leaders General Secretary cum State President Nguyen Phu Trong and Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan of the country’s highest legislative body National Assembly. The court decided to sentence Mr. Thuong to 18 months in prison, Mr. Khoa- 15 months and Mr. Khai- one year.
The three Facebookers were without legal assistance during their pre-trial detention and the hearing. It is likely that they were forced by the police to give up legal consultation provided by the lawyers who were hired by their families, said Mrs. Pham Bao Ngoc, the wife of Mr. Khoa.
Mrs. Ngoc also told Defend the Defenders that she and other relatives of the three Facebookers were not permitted to enter the court areas. After fierce argument, police allowed them to enter but stay in the corridor of the courtroom which was filled with policemen and local officials. During the break and after the end of the trial, police prevented the relatives from having physical contacts with the trio, using Covid-19 as an excuse, Ngoc complained.
Along with imprisoning the trio, the judge also decided to confiscate their three computers and two cell phones with which they used to post “anti-state” articles.
Mr. Khoa and Mr. Thuong were arrested by security forces in HCM City on June 13 this year in relation to a group on Facebook in which its members held discussions about Vietnam’s socio-economic issues. It was unclear about the detention of Mr. Khai.
Khoa and Thuong are said to be admins of a Facebook group named Bàn luận Kinh tế-Chính trị (Economic-Political Discussion) with 46,000 followers. However, the group was closed immediately after the arrests of its two admins.
As the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam prepares its 13th National Congress scheduled for January 2021, the regime continues its crackdown on local dissent and tightens control on social media, especially Facebook, the largest social network in Vietnam with around 60 million accounts.
In 2020, Vietnam arrested 27 independent journalists and Facebookers for their online activities and charged them with “abusing democratic freedom,” “conducting anti-state propaganda” and subversion. The communist regime has sentenced ten activists to between nine months and 12 years in prison. In addition, the regime has imposed administrative fines up to VND15 million ($680) on hundreds of Facebookers nationwide for their online posts unfavorable for the regime after requesting them to delete their posts.
In Vietnam, the ruling communist party strictly controls the official media and social networks including Facebook become the main platform for local residents to express their opinions. However, the online crackdown has become more and more fierce.
On December 14, the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a report saying Vietnam is among the first countries in the world holding the largest number of journalists and Facebooker, together with China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Particularly, Vietnam holds seven journalists and 21 Facebookers behind the bar, and is listed at the 175th place among 180 countries in the RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has also listed Vietnam among the global biggest prisons for journalists with 15 journalists being imprisoned.
Vietnam is also the biggest jail for prisoners of conscience in Southeast Asia. According to Defend the Defenders’ latest statistics, Vietnam is holding 252 prisoners of conscience as of December 21, 2020.
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