Vietnamese authorities on Friday sentenced a writer linked to a banned political group to five years in jail on charges of anti-state propaganda over his articles calling for democratic reforms.
Le Thanh Tung, 44, was sentenced by a Hanoi court under Article 88 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits “conducting propaganda against the state,” charges rights groups say Vietnam routinely uses to silence dissent.
Tung, an ex-soldier and freelance journalist who was detained in December 2011, was affiliated with Bloc 8406, a banned coalition of political groups advocating democratic reform in the one-party Communist state.
Tung’s wife Tran Thi An, who attended the one-hour hearing, said her husband had been accused of defaming the government in his articles that called for reforms.
"They asked him about four of his online writings, which they said called for multiparty change and maligning the government,” she told RFA.
“My husband responded that he did not smear or malign [the government] and that he only wants a multiparty system so that people can have a happy and prosperous life. He denounced the trial,” she said.
She said she other family members were refused entry to the hearing and that authorities did not allow her to speak with Tung.
"The trial lasted only one hour from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. They allowed only me in the courtroom. No one other than plainclothes police was present,” she said.
“At the end of the trial, I went up to have some words with my husband, but a young policewoman pushed me away.”
Fellow freelance journalist Duong Thi Xuan, who follows the case and waited outside the court building during the hearing, said the family was given notice of the hearing the day before.
"I just learned about the trial this morning. The family was notified only yesterday afternoon,” she said.
Tung had been detained by Hanoi police 13 times since becoming involved in rights activism four years before his arrest.
Authorities also confiscated his cell phone several times and subjected him to other forms of intimidation.
As a member of Bloc 8406, which is named after its April 8, 2006 manifesto signed by thousands online, Tung had helped workers and land petitioners, according to the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
Other members of the banned group have been jailed under charges of endangering state security and conducting propaganda against the state.
Tung’s conviction comes a day after a court in Dak Nong province gave outspoken blogger Dinh Dang Dinh six years in jail under Article 88 and as three more bloggers await their trial on the same charges.
The hearing for the three “Free Journalists Club” members—Phan Thanh Hai, Ta Phong Tan, and Nguyen Van Hai, who is also known as Dieu Cay—was expected to take place Tuesday at a court in Ho Chi Minh City, but authorities abruptly postponed it on Monday.
Human Rights Watch has accused Vietnam of mounting a sophisticated and sustained attack on online dissent, including by detaining and intimidating anti-government bloggers, while France-based Reporters Without Borders names the country an “Enemy of the Internet.”
Reported by Gwen Ha for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.