Authorities in Vietnam sentenced a man Monday to 18 months in jail for sharing a story on Facebook in January about the deadly Dong Tam protests, the latest conviction of people involved in the politically sensitive land dispute, his wife told RFA.
Chung Hoang Chuong, better known by his nickname Lucky, was found guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, lawful rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens” in violation of article 331 of the Vietnamese penal code by the Ninh Kieu District People’s Court in Can Tho City.
Chuong was also accused of “distorting the truth about the Dong Tam protest causing influence to the state’s prestige and the interests of organizations and citizens” because he posted status updates on Facebook about the deadly incident on Jan. 9 in which three police officers and an elderly community leader lost their lives.
Chuong’s wife Nguyen Thao Nguyen told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Monday that her husband did share information about Dong Tam, but he did not intend to smear the police.
“They said my husband shared a story about a police officer and three dogs that were killed,” she said.
“They questioned if my husband had any opinions on this thing or not,” she added.
“But it was not aimed to distort [the actions of] the police, just to attract likes from other Facebook users. But the Procuracy and the People’s Council did not believe it,” said Nguyen.
According to the indictment, the Ninh Kieu district police found on Sep. 15 that Chuong had also shared other offending stories that abused the party and state, and distorted the reputations of central and local government leaders. They detained him Jan. 12 according to police documents released Jan. 20.
Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed on Jan. 9 by police who attacked his home in an early morning assault that involved about 3,000 security officers. It was the latest flare-up of a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Hanoi.
Though official reports said that villagers had assaulted police with grenades and petrol bombs, a report drawn from witness accounts and released seven days later by journalists and activists said that police had attacked first during the deadly clash that also claimed the lives of three police officers.
Police blocked off pathways and alleys during the attack and beat villagers “indiscriminately, including women and old people,” the report said, calling the assault “possibly the bloodiest land dispute in Vietnam in the last ten years.”
So far, 29 residents have been arrested in relation to Dong Tam, prosecuted on charges ranging from murder to illegal storage and use of weapons, and opposing officers on duty.
Facebook came under fire from Vietnamese and international rights activists last week after the social media giant publicly admitted that it had agreed to help communist authorities censor posts critical of the government.
Two Facebook employees told Reuters news agency last Tuesday that the company’s local servers in Vietnam were taken offline earlier in the year until the company gave in to the demands of the government to remove posts, a period of about seven weeks when the website was often not usable in Vietnam
Amnesty international said Facebook was complicit in the suppression of the freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch said the company had bowed to Vietnamese government extortion.
But in an email to RFA, Facebook argued that pulling out of Vietnam entirely would silence even more in the country than complying with the government’s requests.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.