A court in northern Vietnam’s Bac Ninh province on Friday rejected the appeal of a local activist and toll-booth protester, sending him back to jail to serve his 30-month term.
Ha Van Nam was convicted on July 30 on a charge of “causing public disorder” at a toll-booth set up under Vietnam’s controversial Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) scheme, which has drawn protests around the country.
At Nam’s trial, the sentencing court said he had gone to the Pha Lai toll station on Vietnam’s Hwy. 18 with a large crowd on Dec. 29, 2018 to block traffic, causing losses of revenue to the station when station managers were forced to let vehicles pass through free of charge to relieve congestion.
Also sentenced by the court were Nguyen Quynh Phong, Le Van Khiem, Nguyen Tuan Quan, Vu Van Ha, Ngo Quang Hung, and Tran Quang Hai, who drew jail terms of from 18 to 36 months on the same charge.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, another local activist who was present in the courtroom Friday said prosecutors and judges did not allow Nam to speak in his own defense at the hearing.
“When Ha Van Nam tried to speak up for himself, the procuracy and the judges would not let him present his case,” Tran Thi Thu Thuy, a longtime friend and supporter, said.
“The judges said that Nam’s protest was a deliberate act of instigation, even though he had not encouraged others [to block traffic] but had only encouraged them to assert their rights,” she said, adding that Vietnamese law guarantees the people’s rights to protest wrongdoing.
Defense motions rejected
Prosecutors rejected defense motions to explain the cause of Nam’s protest, insisting that his appeal be judged only against the facts established during his first trial, Thuy said. And after about two hours of court hearing and deliberation, the court ruled to uphold Nam’s sentence.
“This sentence is very unfair. It is unjust for the government to accuse people of causing public disorder simply for insisting on their interests and legal rights,” she said.
Vietnamese citizens have long suspected station operators of falsifying collection records at BOT projects across the country, with citizen volunteers sometimes camping nearby to count cars passing through and ensure that tolls are not collected outside the times allowed.
One form of protest has involved truck drivers paying their tolls with small-denomination coins, slowing down collection and creating huge traffic jams.
Under the BOT model, investors transfer their projects to state ownership after building and operating them for a period of time.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Channhu Hoang. Written in English by Richard Finney.