A court in Vietnam sentenced a prominent online whistleblower to nearly five years in prison Monday for bribery, according to his lawyer, who called the verdict “anticipated” and vowed to pursue an appeal for his client.
The court in Dak Nong province, in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region, found 48-year-old Tran Minh Loi guilty under Article 364 of the country’s penal code for handing out 90 million dong (U.S. $3,965) in bribes and sentenced the popular Facebook user to four years and six months in jail.
Pham Cong Ut, one of Loi’s six lawyers, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service at the conclusion of the trial that his client—who is well-known for exposing graft online—would appeal the ruling.
“This is what we anticipated—we lawyers know this is just the lower court and the case will go to the appeal court,” Ut said.
“To find justice for any victim we always have to go a long way. This is just the beginning of a long process.”
Ut noted that the sentence had been lighter than one proposed by the prosecutor of “five to six years,” but said Loi is innocent and should never have been tried to begin with. Loi faced between 13 and 20 years in prison under Article 364.
Last week, the court had spent two days reviewing testimonies in Loi’s case and found that the indictment order against him failed to include sufficient evidence, according to a report by state media. The court was unable to sentence Loi at the time, saying to do so would violate his rights.
Loi is celebrated for his work uncovering corruption as the author of the blog Diet Giac Noi Xam (Fighting Internal Invaders), where he has stated repeatedly that “no single person is responsible for the fight against corruption” and accused several local authorities of involvement in timber smuggling.
Ut told the BBC on March 22 that Loi’s prior hearing drew hundreds of local supporters, many of whom said his work had helped their communities.
As part of an ongoing crackdown on online dissent, Vietnamese authorities arrested blogger activists Phan Kim Khanh and Bui Hieu Vo in recent weeks, charging them with propaganda against the state under Article 88 of the country’s penal code.
Democracy advocate Khanh has administered two blogs called Bao Tham Nhung (Corruption Newspaper) and Tuan Viet Nam (Vietnam Week) since 2015, maintains three Facebook accounts and also runs two YouTube channels.
Vo is the owner of a Facebook account called Hieu Bui on which, authorities claim, he called for the use of incendiary bombs and acid to attack police and government officials.
Vietnamese authorities frequently use Article 88 along with Articles 79 and 258 of the criminal code to arrest and imprison those who support democracy and human rights and denounce abuses.
Article 79 pertains to “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” while Article 258 refers to “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens.”
There are at least 84 prisoners of conscience in Vietnam, including bloggers, labor and land rights activists, political activists, ethnic and religious minorities, and advocates for human rights and social justice who have been convicted after unfair trials or are held in pretrial detention, according to a July 2016 report on Vietnamese political prisoners issued by London-based Amnesty International.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.