An appeals court in Vietnam on Monday upheld a lower court’s verdict in sentencing a Catholic music teacher to 11 years in jail for posting online criticisms of the one-party communist state and the government, the convicted man’s lawyer told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Nguyen Nang Tinh, 45, who teaches at a provincial arts and cultural college, was arrested in May 2019 after he was found writing and sharing what authorities deemed anti-state posts and videos on his Facebook account for seven years.
The posts included protests against Vietnam’s law on special economic zones that many citizens fear will favor Chinese investment in the country, and demonstrations against a Taiwanese company that dumped toxic waste into the ocean that caused an environmental disaster off the nation’s central coast in April 2016.
The Council of Judges of the People’s Court in north-central Vietnam’s Nghe An province upheld the 11-year sentence, plus five years of probation with restricted movement, that teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh was handed for the series of Facebook posts published between 2011 and 2018.
The presiding judge said the sentence served as a warning to those who wanted to capitalize on the rights to democracy and freedom by opposing the state, contradicting achievements in Vietnam’s progress with reform.
“At the appeals trial, Nguyen admitted to using Facebook accounts to share stories but affirmed that those stories were not aimed at opposing Vietnam’s government,” said defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh.
“I think this is an unfair sentence to give Nguyen, based on the defendant’s right to freedom of expression and on guarantees provided in the U.N.’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that say everyone is entitled to express their own points of view,” he said.
Vietnam is a signatory to the multilateral treaty that commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights, and rights to due process and a fair trial.
Dang noted that in writing the online posts, Nguyen had exercised his right to free speech guaranteed under Vietnam’s constitution and had contributed to improving state policies.
Hunger strike to resume
The teacher had been on a hunger strike while in prison between March 13 and April 17, during which time he was not allowed to pray, read religious books, or meeting with Catholic priests, Dang said.
Thought the music teacher ended the hunger strike when he was informed about his appeals trial, he now will resume it because that process is over, the attorney said.
Dang said that he and another attorney, Nguyen Van Mieng, spent two days traveling by private car from Ho Chi Minh City to Nghe An to take part in the trial.
Nguyen’s wife, Nguyen Thi Tinh, could not attend her husband’s trial on account of lockdowns in Vietnam to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which on Monday registered 268 confirmed cases but no fatalities.
On April 18, Vietnamese police arrested another social media user, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, on charges of “smearing leaders,” state media reported.
The resident of Nga Bay in the southern province of Hau Giang has been charged under Section 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for making and spreading anti-state information and materials.
Dinh had created many Facebook accounts since 2018 to edit and share hundreds of posts and other materials opposing the state and smearing the Communist Party’s leaders, state media said.
Vietnam police reported in June 2018 that Dinh was also present at a demonstration outside Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica in Ho Chi Minh City to protest against proposed laws on the creation of special economic zones and on cybersecurity, the latter of which called for restrictions on the internet that would give the state greater surveillance and censorship powers.
Another Dong Tam arrest
Police also have arrested another resident of Hoanh village in the rural commune Dong Tam, where about 3,000 security forces conducted a violent early morning assault on residents during a land protest in early 2019 outside Vietnam’s capital Hanoi, an activist said.
On April 19, authorities picked up Nguyen Van Chung, son of Bui Thi Duc, a woman who is among 28 other villagers arrested during the bloody clash on Jan. 9, activist Trinh Ba Phuong told RFA on Monday.
The villagers apprehended following the incident have been charged with committing murder, illegally possessing weapons, and opposing officers on duty.
Nguyen was not arrested at his home in Dong Tam, but in Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, where he was working as an assistant truck driver, Trinh said.
“Last night, he was arrested and cruelly beaten in Saigon,” Trinh said. “Those who witnessed the arrest questioned police about it, but they said that Nguyen was a dangerous person and had to be arrested.”
During a meeting with Hanoi authorities on the same day as the arrest, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc told officials to resolve the Dong Tam issue, consolidate the political system and develop new rural policies.
The Dong Tam clash was the latest flare-up in a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Vietnam’s capital Hanoi.
A report drawn from witness accounts and released seven days after the Jan. 9 clash with security forces said that police had attacked first during the deadly incident that claimed the lives of the Dong Tam village chief and three police officers.
Though all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint with residents accusing the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects and of paying too little in compensation.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.