A court in Vietnam on Thursday sentenced prominent blogger Ho Van Hai to four years in prison for anti-government propaganda, according to state media reports, ending more than a year in detention for the former doctor that had drawn international condemnation.
Hai, 52, who had posted writings online highlighting the faults of Vietnam’s one-party Communist government under the handle “Ho Hai,” was handed four years in jail and an additional two years of house arrest for “anti-state propaganda” under Article 88 of the country’s Penal Code, reports said.
Under Article 88, Hai had faced a sentence of between three and 20 years of imprisonment.
The charges against Hai stemmed from “taking advantage of political events of importance … to produce and publish a number of writings that vilify and slander the country’s leaders, and call for a boycott of the People’s Council elections at all levels” based on 36 articles he published said to violate a government decree on management, provision, and use of internet services and online information.
Duong Lam, a rights activist based in Ho Chi Minh City, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that Thursday’s trial was held in secret, with nearly none of Hai’s supporters aware of the proceedings before they were underway.
“[Few people knew about the trial] because of the way he resisted—he chose to fight like a silent soldier, an anonymous blogger,” Lam said.
“Secondly, the pressure his family was put under when he was arrested—the investigative security agency and the authorities regularly put pressure on the relatives of arrested people,” he added.
“And thirdly, there was a scarcity of information about his case on social media. We didn’t hear anything about him until we saw the news on state media.”
Call for release
Hai was formerly a doctor at Cho Ray Hospital—the largest general hospital in Ho Chi Minh City—but opened a private clinic in 2004, where he worked until his arrest on Nov. 2, 2016.
Also the president and founder of the Go West Foundation, Hai’s Facebook page and blog featured many articles promoting education and environmental protection.
Shortly after his arrest, the U.N. Human Rights Office for Southeast Asia called on Vietnam to unconditionally release Hai and two political activists pushing for greater freedoms Vietnam, Luu Van Vinh and Nguyen Van Duc Do, and to investigate allegations that the trio were tortured while in custody.
Vinh and Do were arrested on Nov. 6, under Article 79 of the Penal Code for conducting “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”—a charge carries a sentence of between 12 years and life imprisonment or capital punishment.
The two men had recently founded the “Coalition of Self-determined Vietnamese Peoples,” an organization aimed at promoting multi-party democracy and human rights.
In its statement, the U.N. had urged Vietnam to drop Articles 88 and 79, as well as various other broadly worded security laws Vietnam uses to jail dissidents and critics.
“These two penal provisions, along with other similar articles dealing with so-called National Security offences, run contrary to international human rights standards and should be repealed,” the U.N. said at the time.
Authorities have been targeting activist writers and bloggers in a months-long crackdown in Vietnam, where dissent is not tolerated.
Vietnam currently holds at least 84 prisoners of conscience, the highest number in any country in Southeast Asia, according to rights group Amnesty International.
On Wednesday, a court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi sentenced democracy activists Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien and Tran Hoang Phuc to lengthy jail terms for violating Article 88 by posting 17 video clips criticizing the government on Facebook and YouTube.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.