Vietnamese Facebook Users Draw Prison Terms for Postings Criticizing Government, State Officials

2021-03-31
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Vietnamese Facebook Users Draw Prison Terms for Postings Criticizing Government, State Officials Vietnamese blogger Le Van Hai is shown at his trial in Binh Dinh province, March 31, 2021.
State Media

A court in south-central Vietnam’s Binh Dinh province on Wednesday sentenced a Facebook user to four years in prison for sharing his grievances online about how the local government had handled a dispute over his family’s land, Vietnamese sources said.

Le Van Hai, 54, had slandered local leaders and Communist Party members, prosecutors said, and was charged with “abusing freedom and democratic rights to infringe upon the interests of the state” under Article 33 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code.

Taken into custody in September 2020, Le had complained to Binh Dinh authorities and other government departments to ask for compensation payments because his family’s house and land had been confiscated to make way for construction of a wastewater plant, state media said.

Frustrated by officials’ refusal of his requests, Le then shared his frustrations on Facebook, leading to his arrest.

While all land in Vietnam is ultimately held by the state, land confiscations have become a flashpoint for protests as resident accuse the government of pushing small landholders aside in favor of lucrative real estate projects, and of paying too little in compensation to farming families displaced by development.

Another Facebook user, Vu Tien Chi, was meanwhile sentenced Tuesday in a one-day trial the central highlands province of Lam Dong to a prison term of 10 years, with three years of probation to be served after his release, state media said.

Vu, 55, was convicted under Article 117 of the 2015 Criminal Code for “defaming the people’s government and senior leaders of the Party” in 338 posted stories and 181 livestream videos calling for the establishment of a “National Congress” set up to replace the current National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

Prosecutors said Vu’s postings had aimed at “creating conflicts and undermining the people’s trust” in their form of government.

Also on March 30, a court in south-central Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa province brought to trial Nguyen Thi Cam Thuy, a former math teacher, and two other people—Ngo Thi Ha Phuong and Le Viet Hoa—on charges of “creating, storing, and disseminating information, materials and items opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”

Thuy, who was arrested on June 24, 2020, had burned the Vietnamese national flag and Communist Party flag, hanging the flag of the former South Vietnamese government in their place, in livestream broadcasts on social media, according to reports in the province’s Khanh Hoa newspaper.

Crowded, smoke-filled ward

On Monday, Tran Thanh Phuong—a member of the opposition Hien Phap, or Constitution Group, serving a three-year prison term and suffering from asthma—reported to family members he had been transferred from a room for political prisoners to a crowded and cigarette smoke-filled criminal ward, his wife told RFA.

Tran had been disciplined after trying to mediate a conflict between two other inmates, and was kept in handcuffs and leg irons in an isolation cell from March 2 to March 12, after which he was transferred to the criminal ward, Le Thinh Khanh said.

“Since my husband was transferred to the new ward, he has had to work outdoors, and he asked prison officials to allow him not to work as he has high blood pressure and can’t stand working under the sun,” Le said.

“But the officers then sent him to a room for patients suffering from various diseases, and being afraid of getting ill himself, he now wants to work outdoors again instead of staying in that room,” she said.

The Hien Phap Group, a network of activists formed in 2017 to call for the rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by Vietnam’s own Constitution, had played a major role in calling for protests that rocked Vietnamese cities in June 2018 in opposition to a proposed cybersecurity law and a law granting concessions of land to Chinese businesses.

Seven of its members are still in prison serving sentences of from five to eight years on charges of “disturbing security” under Article 118 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

In its Freedom in the World 2021 report, Washington D.C.-based Freedom House gave Vietnam an overall score of 19 out of a possible 100, a one-point drop from last year’s rating. Vietnam scored three out of 40 in political rights, and 16 out of 60 in civil liberties.

”Freedom of expression, religious freedom, and civil society activism are tightly restricted [and the] authorities have increasingly cracked down on citizens’ use of social media and the internet,” Freedom House said.

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

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