A retired teacher who posted writings on his Facebook page criticizing Vietnam’s government was convicted on Wednesday of trying to overthrow the state and was handed a 14-year prison term in a sentence his lawyer called “unjustified and much too harsh.”
Dao Quang Thuc, 58, had called in his online writings and in public protests for better protections for Vietnam’s environment and against what many in Vietnam consider encroachments by China in the South China Sea.
China’s claims and construction of artificial islands in the region have sparked frequent anti-China protests in Vietnam, which the one-party communist government in Hanoi fears as a potential threat to its own political control.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service following Thuc’s trial in Vietnam’s Hoa Binh province, defense lawyer Le Van Luan said that case documents prepared by prosecutors had failed to prove that Thuc was guilty of subversion.
“They showed only that he had tried to make connections [online] with others with similar views,” he said.
“Fifteen witnesses were prepared to testify, but only Thuc’s wife and son were allowed to be present in court,” Luan said, adding that prosecutors and jurors had also not carefully examined evidence he had submitted at the trial.
“There was no presumption of innocence, and they also did not consider mitigating factors that I put forward in [Thuc’s] defense, so the sentence was completely unjustified and much too harsh.”
Trial not transparent
After Thuc’s trial, Thuc’s daughter Dao Ngoc Bich Quynh Trang said that proceedings in the court had not been conducted in a transparent manner, according to a Sept. 19 report by Agence France-Presse.
“Not many people were allowed to attend, and those present at the court were not objective,” Trang said, quoted by AFP.
Thuc had also been badly beaten and left without food following his October 2017 arrest, and appeared weak and frail in court on Wednesday, Trang said.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of whom 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated "not free" in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.