Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh, is better known as Anh Ba Sam, was sentenced to five years in prison on March 23 for posts on his Ba Sam blog site that were critical of the government. The former police officer was convicted on a charge of abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code. His assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy was given three years in prison on the same charge. Mac Lam of RFA’s Vietnamese Service interviewed the blogger’s wife, Le Thi Minh Ha, on her experience with her husband’s case.
RFA: Before the trial, a German member of parliament, Mr. Martin Patzelt, had flown to Hanoi to support Ba Sam, hoping that he would be allowed to attend the trial. Do you think that what Mr. Patzelt did made the Vietnamese government hand out a harsher sentence to prove that they are not under any pressure?
Le Thi Minh Ha: I don’t think so. The sentence is not dependent on this. They did not base it on any legal ground. I think they had always wanted to reach a compromise with him (Ba Sam), knowing that he may or may not give in. There is no basis for the sentence, there is no evidence, no legal document to base it on. Their action is that of a government that has no law. Why would I have any hope in them? I heard news that the decree of the sentence depended on his attitude. … As for my campaign, since his arrest, I have never had any optimistic expectation of this trial. They violated the law when they arrested him. It was totally wrong. How would I put any hope in this trial? I didn’t expect any solution via this trial. They had to bring him to court to show that they did have some progress. I had no hope, no expectation in this trial. The trial’s result does not affect my thoughts.
RFA: Not many people were allowed to attend the trial. You and Minh Thuy’s mother were allowed to attend the trial. Can you please let us know what happened inside the courtroom?
Le Thi Minh Ha: My first impression was that I was so surprised to see the court was guarded strictly. It looked like a ’rebellion' was about to happen. Why did they have to mobilize so many forces for a closed trial? The whole first floor was reserved for this trial on that day, and other trials had to be rescheduled to other days. Secondly, there were many young men dressing like thugs with tattoos and gold chains on the first floor of the court. We had to go through a screening procedure and all our computers, cell phones were taken. We then had to go through a screening machine on the third floor. Most of the people inside and outside the court room were young policemen, and there might have been some people from the prosecutor’s office. I think they wanted to show to people that this is a dangerous crime and this is a technology crime, so it is difficult to try and they want young people to come to learn. My first feeling was not comfortable. The only two civilians in the court room were Minh Thuy’s mother and me. There were some journalists of the state media. After the judge read his first remarks, the prosecutor read their accusation. I compare the team of (defense) lawyers and the other team -- including one judge, two jury members and two prosecutors -- and saw that they overwhelmed the defense team.
RFA: What do you think about the evidence that they showed at the trial?
Le Thi Minh Ha: It was not normal. All the documents … were not gathered in accordance with the law procedure, but they still included them all in the case. All of the evidence presented at the court had no legal value, but they still could hand out a verdict. The investigative office three times testified before the trial that in the investigative report they stated that they could not verify 24 essays and defendants did not admit any but they still put them in the verdict. Many of the authors of those 24 essays wrote petitions asking to attend the trial as witnesses to prove those essays belong to them but the court never responded to their requests.
RFA: Right after the trial, many countries that had people attending the trial called on Vietnam to drop charge, while the United Nations also raised concerns. What do you think about this?
Le Thi Minh Ha: The new leaders are young, and I don’t know if there is China factor involved, but I think they know very well that any decision given in this trial would have some effect on the country’s economic and political interests. If they respected the law, or at least showed that they respect people’s human rights, then they would have thought about how their decision would affect policies of other powers like the U.S., Germany, or the European Union toward Vietnam in the future. But they have chosen not to respect those.
Translated by Viet Ha.