Vietnamese court upholds 8-year sentence for activist Tran Bang

Move is the latest in a campaign to silence bloggers and activists.
By RFA Vietnamese
2023.08.29
Vietnamese court upholds 8-year sentence for activist Tran Bang Vietnamese activist Tran Bang was arrested in 2022 for Facebook posts he made between 2016 and 2021.
Tran Bang Facebook

A court in Vietnam on Tuesday upheld the eight-year jail sentence of democracy activist Tran Van Bang for anti-state propaganda during a brief hearing in which authorities dismissed the arguments of the defense and “read the old verdict,” according to family members.

Bang’s conviction is the latest in Hanoi’s ongoing campaign to silence bloggers and activists. Vietnam has convicted at least 60 such people for “making, storing and disseminating materials against the State” under the same Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, according to rights groups.

He is among six activists and journalists who have been convicted on charges of anti-state propaganda by the Vietnamese government since January.

The Superior People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday sided with the court of first instance, which in May sentenced Bang, 62, to eight years in prison and three years probation. 

The decision prompted Western governments and international NGOs to call for his release, saying he was denied his right to freedom of speech.

One of Bang’s siblings told RFA Vietnamese that Bang and his defense lawyer presented their argument for his innocence, saying his posts to social media were his own views and not intended to oppose the government.

“However, [at the end] the Procuracy’s representative read the old verdict and immediately made a conclusion, saying that they did not accept the arguments of either the defense lawyer or Tran Bang,” said the sibling, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal.

Authorities only allowed family members to view the proceedings on a closed circuit camera feed broadcast to a nearby room. Diplomatic representatives from foreign governments were also permitted to view the feed on Tuesday, after being barred from Bang’s last trial.

Bang’s sibling told RFA his family was surprised by how quickly Tuesday’s proceedings took place and said Bang was not allowed to make a closing statement.

“The judge read out the decision, saying my brother no longer had the right to appeal, and then tasked the police to execute the judgment.” they said. “Right after that, they took my brother away. Our family quickly ran out [of the room] to see him but couldn’t make it in time.”

Repeated calls by RFA to the Superior People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City for comment on the decision went unanswered Tuesday.

Problematic posts

Tran Van Bang, better known as Tran Bang, is a war veteran who fought during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. He had regularly participated in demonstrations against China for its controversial claims over territories in the South China Sea. 

He was arrested in March 2022 for what was initially determined to be 31 Facebook posts between March 2016 and August 2021. 

After a subsequent investigation, authorities found that he wrote 39 problematic posts between three Facebook accounts that that were seen as “distorting, defaming and speaking badly of the people’s government; providing false information, causing confusion among the people; and expressing hate and discontent towards the authorities, Party, State, and country’s leaders,” the Tuoi Tre newspaper reported at the time, citing the indictment.

Prior to Tuesday’s hearing, Bang’s defense lawyer Tran Dinh Dung told RFA that his client had been suffering from a tumor in his groin that had not been determined benign or malignant, and that an operation to remove the growth had been delayed by red tape at his detention center. The state of Bang’s health situation was not immediately clear.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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