Vietnam court sentences blogger to 6 years in prison

Nguyen Lan Thang was charged with spreading anti-state propaganda.
By RFA Vietnamese
Vietnam court sentences blogger to 6 years in prison Activist Nguyen Lan Thang, his wife and daughter attend a protest against the Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group, whose factory caused the country’s worst-ever environmental disaster.
Credit: Nguyen Lan Thang Facebook

UPDATED AT 3:49 p.m. ET on 2023-04-12

The Hanoi People’s Court on Wednesday sentenced prominent political activist and blogger Nguyen Lan Thang to six years in prison and two years of probation – the latest conviction in a continuing crack down on dissenting voices in the one-party communist country. 

Thang, a long-time contributor of blog posts on politics and society to RFA’s Vietnamese service, was arrested in July 2022 and charged with spreading anti-state propaganda. He is one of four jailed Radio Free Asia contributors in Vietnam. 

Only four defense lawyers and Thang’s wife, Le Bich Vuong, were allowed inside the courtroom for the trial. Vuong told RFA that he didn’t admit to the charge of opposing the State during the five-hour long proceeding.

Thang was accused of “making, storing, spreading or propagating anti-state information, documents, items and publications opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” The charge against him came under Article 117 of Vietnam’s criminal code, which is often used by authorities to suppress free speech on social media.

“All of my family members were very sad, as we all believe in his innocence,” Le Bich Vuong told RFA. “What he did was for the betterment of society.”

RFA President Bay Fang said the conviction was “a miscarriage of justice and an assault on free expression in Vietnam” and called for his immediate release and for all charges to be dropped.

“The outrageous harassment he has endured and his sentencing to six years in prison demonstrate the extent to which Vietnamese authorities will go to silence independent journalists and voices,” she said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Security tightened during trial

Many of Thang’s relatives, friends and activists weren’t allowed near the court. Some political dissidents and family members of prisoners of conscience were under tight house watch or were followed by local security forces if they left home during the trial. 

Thang originally feared the case would be held in a closed courtroom and petitioned last month for an open trial.

The 48-year-old has written several articles on freedom, democracy and human rights on the RFA Vietnamese blog since late 2013. He has also taken part in protests defending Vietnam’s sovereignty in disputed areas of the South China Sea and worked to help people affected by floods and storms in the country’s Central Highlands.

In April 2022, he wrote for RFA about news reports that Russian ships had been turning off their locator systems to evade being tracked for illegal oil sales. He recalled that during the Iraq War, tycoons from a certain “socialist-oriented market economy” had repainted oil ships to buy sanctioned Iraqi oil at a discount and “became very very rich.” 

The indictment said that Thang allegedly “stored” several books with anti-State content, including “Politics for Commoners” and “Non-violent Resistance,” both written by human rights activist and journalist Pham Doan Trang, who is serving a nine-year jail term on the same charge of “propagandizing against the State.”

Trang also allegedly participated in many roundtable discussions by BBC, which contained contents thought to have sabotaged or smeared the Vietnamese government. He was also said to have published 12 videos distorting the communist regime on Facebook and YouTube platforms. 

“Nguyen Lan Thang shared his perspectives and opinions online with a sense of responsibility and duty, but never with malice or disrespect,” Bay Fang said. “Nevertheless he is among four RFA contributors in Vietnam who have been ensnared by the government in an effort to censor and purge.” 

Vuong said Thang hadn’t made a decision on whether he would submit an appeal. That decision would be made in the next two weeks, she said. 

Could have faced 12 years imprisonment 

The government held a closed trial to avoid embarrassment and because officials knew that Thang was innocent – and that his family has made many contributions to Vietnam’s communist regime, said Hieu Ba Linh and independent journalist who lives in Germany.

Thang is from a well-known academic family in Hanoi, and his grandfather wrote a popular Vietnamese dictionary. Under Article 117, he could have faced up to 12 years in prison.

“Apparently, the sentence of six-year imprisonment for Mr. Thang was pretty light,” Hieu Ba Linh said. “However, for a patriot like Mr. Thang, a day in prison is still a day of injustice and unfairness.”

His parents told RFA ahead of the trial that Thang “has never done anything wrong to his family, country and his own conscience.”

Earlier this week, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued statements calling on the Vietnamese government to drop the charges and immediately release Thang.

On Wednesday, the deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch said the verdict showed once again that there is no justice or respect for human rights in Vietnam.

“Vietnam is systematically dismantling and imprisoning the network of political activists and NGO leaders who dare exercise their rights to demand reforms and improvements in the country,” Phil Robertson said. 

“The Vietnamese people will be the ultimate losers in this game as the party apparatchiks take advantage of the purge of whistleblowers to redouble the crony corruption of the ruling party,” he said.

According to the CPJ, Vietnam has detained 21 journalists for their professional activities as of Dec. 1, 2022. 

Before the trial, Vuong told RFA that her husband had “only exercised a citizen’s freedom of expression, press freedom, and responsibilities for protecting national sovereignty, environment, and human rights and fighting against injustice in society.” 

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Mike Firn, Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

This story has been updated to include reaction to the trial verdict.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.


Apr 12, 2023 11:04 AM

Crazy communist regime, keeps oppressing any difference of opinion. Let's all voice our opposition demanding freedom for him