An appeals court in Vietnam on Thursday upheld a two-year sentence imposed on a popular blogger, at the same time blocking the rights campaigner and his attorney from openly discussing in court details of the writings that had led to his conviction, sources said.
Truong Duy Nhat, 50, was found guilty on March 4 of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” at a half-day trial in central Vietnam’s Danang city and was sentenced under Article 258 of the penal code, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
Thursday’s hearing in Danang to consider the appeal of his sentence ended quickly, Nhat’s lawyer, Tran Vu Hai, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
“[The court] upheld the lower court’s sentence, which is two years’ imprisonment,” he said, adding, “The trial did not take much time. It began at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 15 minutes to 10:00.”
Attempts by Nhat and his lawyer to defend in court the content of 12 of his online writings were quickly suppressed, with judges refusing them permission to speak and ordering sound feeds cut to an adjoining room set aside for reporters, Hai said.
“[We wanted] to discuss those articles and explain why he wrote them and what their contents were, and ask how they had infringed on the interests of the state.”
“They did not let us say anything about this, and whenever we tried to say something they threatened us, saying that if we attempted to speak they would throw us out of the court,” Hai said.
“Some friends of Truong Duy Nhat’s were present and sat in another room for the press where there was a screen. But when we began to speak about [Nhat’s] 12 articles, the sound went off.”
National leaders criticized
Nhat, a former reporter at state-run newspapers, was arrested in May 2013, weeks after posting articles on his blog “Another Viewpoint” calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.
He had also conducted an online opinion poll ahead of a first-ever confidence vote on senior officials in the country’s parliament held at a session in June last year.
A friend of Nhat’s who was present at the appeal hearing said that at Nhat’s first trial, only Nhat’s wife and children could attend.
“This time, his wife and children, some relatives, and three friends—including the writer Thai Ba Loi, Tran Chi Trung, and myself from Hanoi—were present, but we could not sit in the courtroom and were only allowed to sit with the press,” writer Pham Xuan Nguyen told RFA.
“We followed the court proceedings on a screen, but the sound came on and off.”
“Whenever there was an argument, only pictures were shown,” he said.
Stopped by police
Another friend of Nhat’s said he was stopped by police on his way to the courthouse and detained for three hours for a document check.
“I could not make it to the trial,” Nguyen Van Tach told RFA, speaking from the police station in Danang city’s Hoa Hiep North Commune.
“When they stopped me and checked my papers, they saw that I had not brought a registration for my motorbike,” he said. “And though the law would have allowed them to write me a ticket at the scene, they told me they were ordered to bring me to the station.”
Speaking to RFA, Nhat’s lawyer, Tran Vu Hai, said that court authorities had tried to block him on Wednesday from making copies of lower court documents needed to prepare for Thursday’s hearing.
“But I fought, and they had to let me do it,” he said.
Writer Pham Xuan Nguyen meanwhile condemned the Danang court’s use of Article 258 of the penal code to convict Nhan, calling the article’s language and provisions “ambiguous.”
“It is easy to apply this article in order to charge people without evidence,” he said.
Paris-based press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders lists Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet” and the third-largest prison in the world for netizens.
Vietnam is second only to China for the number of journalists jailed, according to the annual prison census of the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which counts 16 out of 18 Vietnamese reporters currently behind bars as bloggers.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.