Vietnamese activist Le Van Dung sentenced to 5 years for ‘anti-state propaganda’

Dung made online videos on politics and social issues, violating laws the UN has called vague and arbitrary.
RFA's Vietnamese Service
Vietnamese activist Le Van Dung sentenced to 5 years for ‘anti-state propaganda’ Rights activist Le Van Dung (R) live streams on Facebook in a coffee shop in Hanoi, Vietnam in this file photo.

A Vietnamese court on Wednesday sentenced independent journalist and activist Le Van Dung to five years in prison for discussing political and socioeconomic issues in online videos, his lawyer told RFA.

In a trial that lasted a little more than two hours, Dung admitted to making the videos prior to his arrest in June. But his lawyer argued with the prosecution’s stance that the videos violated anti-state propaganda laws, specifically Article 88, a controversial law used to target dissidents.

“The trial started at 8:30 this morning and ended around 11,” one of his lawyers, Dang Dinh Manh, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service. “The sentence is five years in jail and five years’ probation. They wanted to stick him with up to six years in jail.”

According to Manh, the trial finished quickly because of Dung’s admission.

“He affirmed that he had exercised the right to free expression, so what he said in the videos were not violations of law, but they said they made a number of violations, such as bewildering the public and offending state agencies or leaders,” Manh said.

Manh maintained that he and the other lawyers on the defense argued that what Dung said in the videos is protected under Vietnam’s constitution, which grants the right to free expression. They also said Article 88 is unconstitutional and violates international agreements signed by Hanoi.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in June said that Article 88, along with the similarly worded Article 117, is too broad and vaguely written, making it impossible to determine which activities are allowed and which are prohibited.

Dung’s wife, Bui Thi Hue, was not allowed to attend her husband’s trial. Though it had been announced that the trial was public, security forces said she could not get in without proper authorization.

“I think my husband is innocent. That five-year verdict, even if it were only five days, it would be very unjustifiable,” she told RFA.

Nguyen Van Son received an 18-month suspended sentence from the court for helping Dung hide prior to his arrest.

A day before the trial, New York-based Human Rights Watch in a statement called for Vietnamese authorities to immediately drop what it called the “politically motivated charges” against Dung.

“The Vietnamese penal code provision on propaganda seeks to intimidate people with the threat to shut up or be locked up,” the group said.

Independent media is illegal in Vietnam, which ranks 175th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders' 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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