Nguyen Tuong Thuy
Vietnamese RFA Blogger Jailed For 11 Years on Anti-State Charge
A Vietnamese court on Tuesday sentenced dissident Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy to 11 years in prison for writing articles online criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist government, handing two other independent journalists lengthy jail terms at the same time.
Thuy, a former vice president of the Vietnam Independent Journalism Association, had blogged on civil rights and freedom of speech issues for RFA’s Vietnamese Service for six years, and visited the United States in 2014 to testify before the House of Representatives on media freedom problems in Vietnam.
Arrested in May, Thuy was indicted along with IJAVN members Pham Chi Dung and Le Huu Minh Tuan on Nov. 10 for “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Sentenced with Thuy on Tuesday, Pham Chi Dung was given a 15-year prison term, while Le Huu Minh Tuan was jailed for 11 years.
At their trial, the three defendants said they had founded the Independent Journalists Association to promote freedom of expression, democracy, and human rights only in accordance with permitted regulations, defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh wrote on his Facebook page after the trial.
“They said that their activities had not violated Vietnamese laws,” Manh said.
Press freedoms blocked
Speaking to RFA by phone following the trial, fellow defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng called the sentences given the three journalists “too harsh.”
“These are very harsh sentences to give to [writers] who only promote and support the press freedoms guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution,” he said.
“What this case shows is that the right to press freedoms is being blocked,” Mieng said. “The court did not prosecute these three men for establishing the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. Instead, they were prosecuted because of the stories and articles they wrote.”
“The trials held in cases like this in Vietnam are often called ‘pocket judgments,’ and the sentences are often too harsh,” Thuy’s wife Pham Thi Lan told RFA. “In fact, [the defendants’] actions had not violated the Constitution, since Article 25 protects freedom of expression.”
“However, the court paid no attention to justice in this case and didn’t base their decision on the law,” she said.
In an earlier report, Pham had described Thuy as being seriously ill in the lead-up to his trial because of the harsh conditions in which he was held, saying he was "aching all over his body, especially on his left hand."
"He now has scabies even though the detention center has provided him with some medication," Pham told RFA on Dec. 31.
"This is due to the conditions in the closed cell in which he has been jailed, which has only one ventilator that is covered with a wire mesh," she said.
Independent journalist Nguyen Tuong Thuy (left), Pham Chi Dung (right), and Le Huu Minh Tuan (at back) are shown on trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Jan. 5, 2021.
Call for immediate release
In a statement Tuesday, RFA President Stephen Yates condemned Thuy's sentencing and called for him to be freed.
"Radio Free Asia unequivocally condemns today's conviction of Nguyen Tuong Thuy and calls for his immediate release," Yates said.
"The harsh sentencing of Thuy and two other independent journalists is a blatant assault on basic freedoms and flies in the face of the freedom of expression enshrined in Vietnam's constitution."
"Despite this development, RFA will continue to bring the people of Vietnam trustworthy journalism and provide a platform for independent commentary," Yates said.
Rights groups also slammed the three journalists’ conviction and sentencing on Tuesday, with Daniel Bastard—head of the Asia/Pacific desk for Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF)—calling the sentences handed down “extremely shocking.”
“Imposed ahead of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s 13th national congress at the end of the month, these sentences are clearly designed to extinguish any form of civil society debate—a debate that these members of the independent journalists association had been echoing.”
The three journalists had already been held in "appalling conditions" in detention, Bastard said, adding, "They were held incommunicado for months and were not granted the right to see their lawyer until last November."
“They have no place being in prison," he said.
The three sentenced journalists now join the estimated 170 prisoners of conscience currently held in Vietnam, said Emerlynne Gill, deputy regional director for Amnesty International, adding that Tuesday’s verdicts underscore the Vietnamese government’s contempt for free media.
“Even by its own deeply repressive standards, the severity of the sentences shows the depths being reached by Vietnam’s censors,” Gill said.
Two other RFA Vietnamese contributors are serving jail terms in Vietnam. They are Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger who was sentenced in March last year to 10 years, and Nguyen Van Hoa, a videographer who was sentenced in November 2017 to seven years.
Nguyen Van Hoa
Vietnam Jails Activist Blogger For Seven Years Over Formosa Protests
A court in Vietnam sentenced blogger activist Nguyen Van Hoa to seven years in prison Monday for “conducting propaganda against the state,” saying he had tried to incite protests over the government’s handling of a devastating toxic waste spill in 2016.
The People’s Court of Ha Tinh province found Hoa, 22, guilty of violating Article 88 of Vietnam’s Penal Code in a two-and-a-half hour trial and also ruled that he be placed under house arrest for three years after his jail term is complete.
The hearing for Hoa, who blogged and produced videos for RFA, had initially been scheduled for Nov. 28, but the proceedings were moved up unexpectedly. No attorney was present to represent him.
Attempts by RFA’s Vietnamese Service to reach Hoa’s family members for comment after the trial went unanswered.
State media reported Monday that Hoa had produced video, photos, and articles about Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group’s April 2016 release of toxic chemicals from its massive steel plant located at the deep-water port in Ha Tinh for the purpose of “propagating against, distorting and defaming the government.”
Hoa “received money” from “extremists and hostile forces” to cause public disorder, the reports said.
The Formosa spill killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces. The company pledged U.S. $500 million to clean up and compensate people affected by the spill, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of payouts.
Hoa, who is also a digital security trainer and regular contributor to RFA, was the first person to broadcast live footage of protests outside the company’s steel plant in Ha Tinh using a flycam drone. Last October, his footage of more than 10,000 peaceful protesters went viral.
He was initially arrested on Jan. 11 for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the Penal Code, but the charges against him were upgraded in April to the more severe "propaganda against the state" under Article 88.
Rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh called the ruling against Hoa a “predetermined judgment that was completely predictable.”
He condemned what he said was “a secret trial,” saying the court had “tricked people” into thinking that the hearing would take place on Tuesday.
“Under Vietnamese law, the defendant has the right to refuse a lawyer,” he told RFA.
“But a trial without a lawyer, like this one, fails to meet an important legal standard that everyone around the world agrees on the need for.”
Dinh said that Vietnam’s government works hard to prevent lawyers from taking part in political cases, such as Hoa’s, because “they fear the evidence they provide will be challenged.”
“We all know that most of the evidence is fabricated and falsely interpreted,” he said.
“Therefore, it’s not surprising to know that there was no lawyer at his trial.”
Facebook user Huy Jos, a fellow activist and friend, told RFA that he found Hoa’s sentence particularly harsh.
“[The sentence] is very unfair for such a young man fighting for a better society,” he said.
“But I know he will never regret what he did.”
The Ha Tinh court’s ruling also drew condemnation from Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), with the head of its Asia-Pacific desk, Daniel Bastard, calling it “totally disproportionate” in a statement Monday.
“It was all the more severe because Hoa showed his good faith by accepting all the police recommendations,” Bastard said, noting that the blogger had agreed not to take a lawyer and signed a confession that was broadcast on state TV in April.
“Not even his family was warned that this trial was going to take place. Such drastic action confirms the intransigence of Vietnam’s refusal to tolerate any reporting freedom. Vietnam’s commercial partners should draw the appropriate conclusions.”
RSF noted that Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a blogger better known as “Me Nam” (Mother Mushroom), was given a ten-year jail sentence last June for similar reasons.
On Monday, Quynh’s lawyer Vo An Don was struck from the bar association, days before her Nov. 30 appeal hearing.
Authorities have been targeting activist writers and bloggers in a months-long crackdown in one-party Communist Vietnam, where dissent is not tolerated.
Vietnam is currently holding at least 84 prisoners of conscience, the highest number in any country in Southeast Asia, according to rights group Amnesty International.
RSF ranked Vietnam 175th out of 180 countries in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
Truong Duy Nhat
Vietnam Appeals Court Upholds 10-Year Sentence for RFA Blogger
A court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Friday upheld the 10-year sentence imposed earlier this year on an RFA blogger in what he has called a case of political persecution against him, rejecting his appeal and sending him back to prison to serve his full term, his lawyer told RFA.
Truong Duy Nhat, who had been a weekly contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service before his abduction in Thailand by police in January 2019, spoke during Friday’s hearing and disclosed new details of his arrest and how he was spirited from Thailand to Vietnam through Laos, the lawyer said.
Nhat, who had earlier been jailed in Vietnam from 2013 to 2015 for his writings criticizing Vietnam’s government, was convicted in March of “abusing his position and authority” in a decade-old land fraud case. On Friday he and his lawyer contested key details of the old business deal.
He was charged by police investigators in July 2019 with “abusing his position” during his 1998 to 2011 tenure as bureau chief of the Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity) newspaper in Danang City. He bought land for use as a headquarters for his newspaper, with a local businessman named Phan Van Anh Vu recruited by him to make the purchase.
The land was acquired at less than its proper value, prosecutors charged, with a loss to the state of its purchase estimated at VND 300 million in 2014, rising to over VND 13 billion (U.S. $560,000) at the time of the loss’s discovery on April 17, 2018, state media said in earlier reports.
Nhat’s supervisors at the newspaper, who ordered him to sign the deal, were never prosecuted, though, and were blamed for losses to the state valued at the lower amount, defense lawyer Dang Dinh Manh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service following Friday’s ruling on his client’s appeal.
“The losses were the same, but Nhat was accused of having caused losses given in 2018 values at over VND 13 billion, and was therefore charged with criminal responsibility and was sentenced to 10 years in jail,” Dang said, describing the sentence as “very harsh.”
“It is unreasonable not to uphold the regulation that everyone has the right to equal treatment under the law, and this is one of the points that I raised to the court and asked the state prosecutors to consider,” Dang said.
RFA blogger Truong Duy Nhat is shown at his appeal trial in Hanoi, Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: State Media
Taken to Vietnam through Laos
Dang added that Nhat declared at his trial that after seeking political asylum in Thailand at the beginning of 2019, he had been arrested by Thai Royal Police on January 26 and handed over to Vietnamese police, who then took him across the border into Laos, and from there back to Vietnam.
During the course of Nhat’s arrest and transfer, his mobile phone and U.S. $8,000 were taken from him, Dang added.
“Finally, the Vietnamese police brought him to the Mai Dich Ward in Hanoi on January 28, and then made a formal record of his arrest, two days after he had been taken into custody by police in Thailand,” he said.
Testifying at Nhat's appeal trial, Phan Van Anh Vu, who had helped Nhat purchase the property for his newspaper, asserted Nhat’s innocence of the charges for which he was convicted, adding that Nhat had acted only on behalf of his employers, defense lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan told RFA following the trial.
Nhat had also asked that the presiding judge and investigators from his earlier trial be summoned to explain the discrepancy in the charges and clarify how the relevant laws were applied, but the judges considering his appeal turned down the request, Dang said.
'Others will raise their voices'
Writing on her Facebook page before the appeal trial, Nhat's daughter Truong Thuc Doan said that she and her mother had been barred by authorities from attending the appeal trial because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But I know that my father will not feel alone at all!” she wrote.
“No matter how many years it takes, I will still wait for you. The Vietnamese authorities may imprison you, journalist Truong Duy Nhat, but thousands of other journalists of conscience will continue to raise their voices.”
“The authorities may suffocate critical voices today, but future generations will continue to struggle for their ideals,” she wrote.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent has deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists and publishers, as well as Facebook personalities. And activists say things are likely to get worse as authorities stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.