Vietnamese RFA Blogger Jailed For 11 Years on Anti-State Charge

2021-01-05
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Vietnamese RFA Blogger Jailed For 11 Years on Anti-State Charge Independent journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy (left), Pham Chi Dung (right), and Le Huu Minh Tuan (at back) are shown on trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Jan. 5, 2021.
State Media

Independent journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy is shown on trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Jan. 5, 2021.

Updated at 2:50 ET on 01-05-2021

A Vietnamese court on Tuesday sentenced dissident Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Tuong Thuy to 11 years in prison for writing articles online criticizing Vietnam’s one-party communist government, handing two other independent journalists lengthy jail terms at the same time.

Thuy, a former vice president of the Vietnam Independent Journalism Association, had blogged on civil rights and freedom of speech issues for RFA’s Vietnamese Service for six years, and visited the United States in 2014 to testify before the House of Representatives on media freedom problems in Vietnam.

Arrested in May, Thuy was indicted along with IJAVN members Pham Chi Dung and Le Huu Minh Tuan on Nov. 10 for “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

Sentenced with Thuy on Tuesday, Pham Chi Dung was given a 15-year prison term, while Le Huu Minh Tuan was jailed for 11 years.

At their trial, the three defendants said they had founded the Independent Journalists Association to promote freedom of expression, democracy, and human rights only in accordance with permitted regulations, defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh wrote on his Facebook page after the trial.

“They said that their activities had not violated Vietnamese laws,” Manh said.

Press freedoms blocked

Speaking to RFA by phone following the trial, fellow defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng called the sentences given the three journalists “too harsh.”

“These are very harsh sentences to give to [writers] who only promote and support the press freedoms guaranteed by Article 25 of the Constitution,” he said.

“What this case shows is that the right to press freedoms is being blocked,” Mieng said. “The court did not prosecute these three men for establishing the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam. Instead, they were prosecuted because of the stories and articles they wrote.”

“The trials held in cases like this in Vietnam are often called ‘pocket judgments,’ and the sentences are often too harsh,” Thuy’s wife Pham Thi Lan told RFA. “In fact, [the defendants’] actions had not violated the Constitution, since Article 25 protects freedom of expression.”

“However, the court paid no attention to justice in this case and didn’t base their decision on the law,” she said.

In an earlier report, Pham had described Thuy as being seriously ill in the lead-up to his trial because of the harsh conditions in which he was held, saying he was "aching all over his body, especially on his left hand."

"He now has scabies even though the detention center has provided him with some medication," Pham told RFA on Dec. 31.

"This is due to the conditions in the closed cell in which he has been jailed, which has only one ventilator that is covered with a wire mesh," she said.

Independent journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy is shown on trial in Ho Chi Minh City, Jan. 5, 2021.

Call for immediate release

In a statement Tuesday, RFA President Stephen Yates condemned Thuy's sentencing and called for him to be freed.

"Radio Free Asia unequivocally condemns today's conviction of Nguyen Tuong Thuy and calls for his immediate release," Yates said.

"The harsh sentencing of Thuy and two other independent journalists is a blatant assault on basic freedoms and flies in the face of the freedom of expression enshrined in Vietnam's constitution."

"Despite this development, RFA will continue to bring the people of Vietnam trustworthy journalism and provide a platform for independent commentary," Yates said.

'Extremely shocking'

Rights groups also slammed the three journalists’ conviction and sentencing on Tuesday, with Daniel Bastard—head of the Asia/Pacific desk for Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF)—calling the sentences handed down “extremely shocking.”

“Imposed ahead of the Vietnamese Communist Party’s 13th national congress at the end of the month, these sentences are clearly designed to extinguish any form of civil society debate—a debate that these members of the independent journalists association had been echoing.”

The three journalists had already been held in "appalling conditions" in detention, Bastard said, adding, "They were held incommunicado for months and were not granted the right to see their lawyer until last November."

“They have no place being in prison," he said.

The three sentenced journalists now join the estimated 170 prisoners of conscience currently held in Vietnam, said Emerlynne Gill, deputy regional director for Amnesty International, adding that Tuesday’s verdicts underscore the Vietnamese government’s contempt for free media.

“Even by its own deeply repressive standards, the severity of the sentences shows the depths being reached by Vietnam’s censors,” Gill said.

Two other RFA Vietnamese contributors are serving jail terms in Vietnam. They are Truong Duy Nhat, a blogger who was sentenced in March last year to 10 years, and Nguyen Van Hoa, a videographer who was sentenced in November 2017 to seven years.

 Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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