Vietnamese man gets 8 years for Facebook posts

Nguyen Hoang Nam was convicted under vaguely written law often used to silence dissent.
By RFA Vietnamese Service
2023.12.11
Vietnamese man gets 8 years for Facebook posts Nguyen Hoang Nam, seen at his trial on Monday, Dec. 11, 2023, was sentenced to prison for  “disseminating, propagandizing information, materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
Tien Phong

A Vietnamese court on Monday sentenced a man to eight years in prison for his Facebook posts in a trial with no defense lawyers that lasted only two hours.

The An Giang People’s Court found Nguyen Hoang Nam, 41, a member of the Hoa Hao Buddhist community, guilty of “disseminating, propagandizing information, materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” in violation of Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, a law that is often criticized by rights activists to be a vaguely written tool that the government uses to silence dissent.

“It was only my husband and I in the courtroom. Witnesses did not come,” Nam’s wife Lam Thi Yen Trinh told RFA Vietnamese. “They were invited [by the court], but it costs hundreds of thousands of dong (tens of U.S. dollars) to travel to the court, and they couldn’t afford that.”

The indictment said Nam had used four Facebook accounts to share and disseminate images and video clips with content against the ruling Communist Party and the state, state media said.

He had live-streamed many times on his Facebook profiles to satirize and insult local authorities and regularly took photos and filmed local government employees who passed by his home, and posted the videos on social media for offense and defamation purposes, the indictment said.

During the trial, Nam denied the accusations, saying that he had only taken photos of those who often insulted and teased him, his wife said.

According to Trinh, her family signed a contract to hire an attorney from Ho Chi Minh City but the attorney was not allowed to not see Nam before the trial or participate in the trial due to a prohibition put in place by the head of the law firm. She did not know the name of the law firm and refused to disclose the attorney’s name.

Her husband pleaded innocent, disagreed with the sentence, and announced that he would make an appeal, she said.

Hoa Hoa sect

Vietnam’s government officially recognizes the Hoa Hao religion, which has some 2 million followers across the country, but imposes harsh controls on dissenting Hoa Hao groups, including the sect in An Giang province, that do not follow the state-sanctioned branch.

Rights groups say that authorities in An Giang routinely harass followers of the unapproved groups, prohibiting public readings of the Hoa Hao founder’s writings and discouraging worshipers from visiting Hoa Hao pagodas in An Giang and other provinces.

“The Vietnam government's absurd idea of what constitutes a ‘crime’ is on full display in the outrageous eight year prison sentence given to Nguyen Hoang Nam simply because he posted opinions on Facebook that the government didn't like,” Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of  Human Rights Watch’s Asian Division told RFA.

“Locking people away for years for peacefully expressing views is what petty dictatorships do, and shows just how the Vietnamese government falls pathetically short in meeting its obligations to respect human rights,” Robertson said.

Robertson also called on the Vietnamese government to immediately release Mr. Nguyen Hoang Nam and “end its campaign of harassment against Hoa Hao Buddhists who refuse to come under the state's rigid control.”

The eight-year conviction of Nam for conducting ‘anti-state propaganda’ is outrageous, CIVICUS Monitor's Asia-Pacific researcher Josef Benedict told RFA via text messages. CIVICUS Monitor is a research tool that provides data on civic freedoms in 196 countries.

“It highlights the severe punishment faced by activists in Vietnam and the relentless efforts by the authorities to silence individuals who have critical or dissenting views,” said Benedict. “This is a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law. CIVICUS calls for his immediate and unconditional release.”

Benedict called on Vietnam to stop using vague laws like Article 117 to silence online criticism and live up to its status as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

“Such actions are the reason why the CIVICUS Monitor continues to rate Vietnam’s civic space rating as ‘closed’, the worst rating a country can have.”

Nam was previously sentenced to a four-year jail term in 2018 for “disrupting public order” and “resisting officers on official duty” along with five other Hoa Hao Buddhists.

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong.

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