Vietnamese Facebook Users Draw Long Prison Terms For ‘Anti-State’ Posts

Nguyen Van Lam and Tran Hoang Minh are sentenced to nine years and five years respectively for posting and sharing articles and videos criticizing Vietnam's communist government online.
2021-07-20
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Vietnamese Facebook Users Draw Long Prison Terms For ‘Anti-State’ Posts Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Lam is shown at his trial in Nghe An province, July 20, 2021.
State Media

Courts in Vietnam on Tuesday handed down prison terms to two Facebook users charged with posting articles opposing the country’s one-party communist state and calling for violence against judicial officials and police officers, according to state media reports.

In north-central Vietnam’s Nghe An province, Nguyen Van Lam, 51, was sentenced to nine years in prison for posting anti-state writings and sharing videos and other content, including broadcasts by RFA, considered politically subversive.

He was charged under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code for “creating, storing, disseminating information and materials against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” a provision of Vietnamese law frequently used by authorities to stifle government critics and other peaceful voices of dissent.

Persons convicted of crimes under the law can be sentenced to from five to 20 years in prison.

According to the Nghe An Police Investigative Agency, Lam had posted numerous stories, images, and videos violating Vietnamese law from 2017 to November 2020, including livestream videos and stories from RFA and other online sources, and 18 stories written by himself on his mobile phone.

Among Lam’s posts available online, several mock authorities with sharp comments on news reports by RFA or other outlets.

On Oct. 26, 2020, Lam wrote: “The Vietnamese people do ask the international organizations, (and) Interpol to monitor the political and economic mechanism (of Vietnam).”

These comments had “smeared the regime, insulted Party and State leaders, called for a multi-party and pluralistic government, and distorted the actual situation in Vietnam,” state media reports said.

News reports did not mention the date of Lam’s arrest or whether he was assisted by a defense lawyer at his trial.

At least 14 Vietnamese people have been imprisoned following conviction on charges filed under Article 117 since January 2021. Pham Chi Dung, president of the Vietnam Independent Journalists Association has drawn the heaviest term so far this year at 15 years, followed by Nguyen Tuong Thuy, vice president of the Association, who was jailed for 11 years.

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Vietnamese blogger Tran Hoang Minh is shown (inset, right) at his trial in Hanoi on July 20, 2021 and (left) in court in September 2020. Photo: State Media

Calls for violence

Separately on Monday, a court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi sentenced Facebook user Tran Hoang Minh to a five-year prison term for online posts criticizing the verdicts handed down following a deadly land-rights clash outside Hanoi in 2020 and calling for the murder of the judge involved in the case.

Minh had been charged under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code for “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to violate the interests of the State, [and] the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals.”

From October 2018 to September 2020, Minh had used two Facebook accounts to post stories presenting his personal view of social and political life in Vietnam, state media reports said, adding that 51 of his stories had criticized the Jan. 9, 2020 raid at Dong Tam commune by 3,000 security officers intervening in a long-running dispute over a military airport construction site about 25 miles south of Hanoi.

Dong Tam village elder Le Dinh Kinh, 84, was shot and killed by police during the raid, and Kinh’s sons Le Dinh Chuc and Le Dinh Cong were sentenced to death on Sept. 14, 2020 in connection with the deaths of three police officers who were also killed in the clash.

After a September 2020 trial held for Dong Tam residents accused of assaulting security officers involved in the raid, Minh posted five stories calling for the killing of the judge in charge of the case and of “as many public security officers as possible,” Minh’s indictment said.

After being summoned by authorities for questioning, Minh turned himself in to police, state media said, adding that he was not represented by a defense attorney at his July 21 trial and that no family members were present in court.

Harsh forms of persecution

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 continued at a brisk pace throughout the first half of 2021.

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

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