A court in central Vietnam sentenced a female writer to five years in prison and ordered an activist priest jailed for two years for “activities undermining the state,” official media said Friday.
Ho Thi Bich Khuong, 44, was handed three years under house arrest in addition to her five-year sentence, while Pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, 40, received an additional two years of house arrest, according to the state-run Nhan Dan newspaper.
The report said both had been arrested on Nov. 15 for "collecting documents and writing articles which tarnished the reputation of the Communist Party and the Socialist regime." Vietnam does not tolerate opposition to one-party Communist rule.
Khuong was also accused of providing interviews to foreign media organizations, including RFA, which “blackened the name of the government” and for belonging to human rights groups led by “reactionaries.”
Ha Huy Son, a lawyer who represented the two during their one-day trial on Thursday in Nghe An province, told RFA that he was “unsatisfied” with the court’s decision, adding that the severity of the punishment was “unbelievable.”
He said that while the trial had been announced as “open to the public,” many supporters reported difficulty getting into the court.
“I had to talk to the court to help a number of their friends and family into the trial,” the lawyer said.
Critical in court
Pastor Ton’s son said that during the trial, Khuong openly criticized the Communist Party in front of the court.
“She condemned the rampant corruption amongst government officials and criticized the Party. She sang the song ‘Victim of Injustice’ and several others before authorities took her out of the courtroom and her sentence was read,” he told RFA.
“Ho Thi Bich Khuong said she had done nothing wrong. My father admitted that he had written essays online, but not against the state—they were criticizing the Party’s leadership and endemic corruption.”
Khuong had been jailed in 2008 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.
Both Khuong and Ton had been affiliated with Bloc 8406, a coalition of political groups advocating for democratic reform in Vietnam, though while Khuong is still an active participant, Ton withdrew from the organization last year citing government pressure.
Rights groups say dozens of political activists and rights campaigners have been sentenced to long prison terms in Vietnam since the government launched a crackdown on free expression in late 2009.
In July, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Nga insisted that “all of the basic rights and freedoms figure in the Vietnamese constitution and in the laws that are below it” and “are respected in practice too,” adding that “no one [in Vietnam] is punished for expressing their opinions.”
Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 165th out of 178 countries on its press freedom index and lists the country as an “Enemy of the Internet.” The France-based organization also says Vietnam is currently holding at least three journalists and 17 bloggers in jail.
Reported by Quynh Chi for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.