A court in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City threw out the appeals of two jailed dissident bloggers on Monday, returning the women to prison to serve their full terms, according to reports in state media.
Vu Thi Dung, 54, had been sentenced by a court in Dong Nai province in April 2018 to six years in prison, with Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong, 51, handed a five-year term in the same trial, on charges of “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the Criminal Code of 2015 and 2017.
From August 2018 to October 10, 2018, the two women had posted “anti-state” writings and videos to several accounts set up under different names and had called for public protests on Oct. 13, 2018 against a new cybersecurity law and other state policies, media reports said, quoting their indictment.
Dung had also produced flyers with anti-state content and recruited Suong to distribute these at four separate locations in Dong Nai’s Dinh Quan town, the indictment said.
Going into effect earlier this year, Vietnam’s new cybersecurity law grants authorities “sweeping powers to censor online content,” with technology companies required to identify users and remove politically sensitive postings.
The law has met with widespread international criticism for its tightened restrictions on freedom of speech online.
Dissent is not tolerated in the one-party communist state, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Threat of harm
Meanwhile, a Vietnamese activist and RFA blogger serving a seven-year prison term for his role in protesting a chemical waste spill on Vietnam’s coast three years ago was threatened in July with crippling bodily harm, his sister told RFA in an interview on Monday.
Nguyen Van Hoa, 24, was threatened by prison officials at An Diem Prison in south-central Vietnam’s Quang Nam province, where he had been placed in isolation for four months after suffering abuse at the hands of a prison guard, Hoa’s older sister said.
“In July, while Hoa was confined at K1 subdivision [at An Diem], officials there told him they were going to cut open the tendons of his legs,” Hoa’s older sister Nguyen Thi Hue said, following a Sept. 20 visit to her brother in the prison.
“Hoa also told me that while he was in isolation he was held in a room 15 by 20 square meters where he was locked in 24 hours every day. He wasn’t allowed to go outside to breathe fresh air, couldn’t see daylight, and all his food and drink were brought to him in his cell,” she said.
Hoa was jailed on Nov. 27, 2017 by the People’s Court of Ha Tinh in Nghe An province after filming protests outside the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group steel plant, whose spill in 2016 killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces.
Hoa, who had blogged and produced videos for RFA, was arrested on Jan. 11, 2017 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 later upgraded to the more severe “conducting propaganda against the state” under Article 88.
Calls seeking comment from the An Diem Prison rang unanswered on Monday.
Vietnam now holds an estimated 128 prisoners of conscience, according to a May 13, 2019 report by rights group Amnesty International. Meanwhile, Nguyen Kim Binh of Vietnam Human Rights Network said in December that the one-party communist state is currently detaining more than 200 political prisoners.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnam’s Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Richard Finney.