A court in Vietnam’s Ha Nam Province upheld a 9-year prison sentence for human rights activist Tran Thi Nga on Friday, rejecting her appeal of her conviction for spreading "propaganda against the State" in a hearing that sparked protests by activists who were then beaten by police.
A human rights defender noted in Vietnam for her online activism, Nga, 40, was sentenced on July 25 to nine years in prison and five years’ under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code, a provision frequently used to silence dissident bloggers and other activists.
Attorney Ha Huy Son, one of the lawyers who represent Nga, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that Nga’s rights were violated throughout the procedures and that she looked thin and in poor health.
“The collection of evidence was not in accordance with legal process,” said Son.
“There is no legal evidence to support the charges against Ms. Tran Thi Nga. The court heard our defense, but they didn’t consider any of the information we provided,” he added.
Son complained that assessors assigned to the case merely sent in written statements without attending the hearing. Defense requests to postpone the hearing to hear the assessments delivered in person were rejected.
“Vietnam does not currently have any laws regulating the assessment of citizens' thoughts. But assessment documents are still used, and in this case the assessment of citizens’ thoughts served as the basis for conviction,” Son told RFA.
Son and two other lawyers attended Friday’s hearing, but her husband and other relatives were kept out of the court room.
Outside of the courtroom, activists who gathered to support Nga were beaten when they tried to record videos in a scene of blanket repression.
“All the teahouses and coffee shops were closed off by public security officers. Police and security forces were all around the court area,” Nguyen Thuy Hanh, an activist from Hanoi who went to Ha Nam province to support Nga, told RFA.
“After we parked our motorbikes, we were roughly loaded into a car. Not one person was left outside. They captured us all,” Hanh added.
He said a least nine people were detained at the scene, including Nga's husband Phan Van Phong, and taken to the local government office in Tran Hung Dao ward.
“This is an extremely wrong, unfair sentence to Thuy Nga as well as to human rights activists. Thuy Nga's actions are beneficial to the society; she has done nothing wrong. This harsh sentence is a flagrant disregard of human rights,” said Hanh.
Among activists from Hanoi who were detained outside the court house were Mai Phuong Thao, Nguyen Thuy Hanh, Hoang Lan, Trinh Dinh Hoa, Truong Van Dung.
Thao later posted on Facebook that she was beaten in the ribs by about 10 thugs, while police looked on. Relatives of Dung told RFA that after he was released, Dung’s phone was taken by two plainclothes policemen while he waited for a bus back to Hanoi.
Nga, who has two children, is well known for defending the rights of Vietnamese migrant workers and victims of government land grabs, and in May 2014 suffered serious injury when she was assaulted by a group of men wielding metal pipes.
The seizure of land for development, often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents, is a major cause of protests in Vietnam and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Cambodia.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Paul Eckert.