Vietnamese Dissident Writer Jailed for Five Years, Six Months by Hanoi Court

Pham Chi Thanh was charged under Article 117 of Vietnam's Penal Code, a law frequently used by authorities to stifle dissident voices.
2021-07-09
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Vietnamese political dissident and writer Pham Chi Thanh is shown in an undated photo.
Facebook / Pham Chi Thanh

A court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Friday sentenced a political dissident, writer, and journalist to five years and six months in prison following a two-and-a-half hour trial called “inappropriate and unlawful” by his lawyer.

Pham Chi Thanh, owner of a blog and Facebook page containing around 100 articles satirizing Vietnamese political leaders, had been charged under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code “for producing, storing, and disseminating information and documents against the Vietnamese state.”

Article 117 is frequently used by authorities to stifle peaceful critics of the country’s one-party communist government, and persons convicted of crimes charged under the law can be sentenced to from five to 20 years in prison.

“Pham Chi Thanh is innocent,” said Thanh’s lawyer Ha Huy Son, speaking to RFA after the trial. “Article 117 only covers writings against the state, and Thanh’s writings only criticized the President, General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.”

“The Investigating Agency and the Procuracy equated the president with the state, which was entirely baseless, so this prosecution [of Thanh] was inappropriate and unlawful,” Son said.

Son added that he had asked that the trial be postponed as both Thanh’s accuser—the buyer of a book self-published by Thanh in 2019 criticizing government leaders—and representatives from the Investigating Agency were not present in the court, but his request was denied.

Born in 1952, Thanh had worked as a managing editor at the Voice of Vietnam radio service, but was dismissed from his job in 2007 after writing articles criticizing China.

He later joined dozens of others presenting themselves as independent candidates for election to Vietnam’s National Assembly, a political process tightly controlled by the ruling Communist Party.

Books, online writings

After self-publishing books and posting online writings criticizing Vietnam’s government and leaders, he was taken into custody on May 21, 2020 by a large group of police who burst through the door of his home and seized personal documents, two computers, and a printer, and was later charged under Article 117.

With Vietnam’s media all following Communist Party orders, “the only sources of independently-reported information are bloggers and independent journalists, who are being subjected to ever-harsher forms of persecution,” the press freedoms watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says in its 2021 Press Freedoms Index.

Measures taken against them now include assaults by plainclothes police, RSF said in its report, which placed Vietnam at 175 out of 180 countries surveyed worldwide, a ranking unchanged from last year.

“To justify jailing them, the Party resorts to the criminal codes, especially three articles under which ‘activities aimed at overthrowing the government,’ ‘anti-state propaganda’ and ‘abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to threaten the interests of the state’ are punishable by long prison terms,” the rights group said.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. But arrests continue in 2021.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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