A Vietnamese RFA blogger serving a 10-year prison sentence last week met with three lawyers to prepare for his appellate trial, but one of the lawyers described the meeting as "uncomfortable," because prison officials were watching them.
Truong Duy Nhat, who had been a weekly contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service before disappearing in January 2019, was sentenced to the lengthy jail term in March for “abusing his position and authority” in a decade-old land-fraud case.
“When we met Truong Duy Nhat last week, it was a bit uncomfortable because two officials also attended our meeting with [him],” Truong’s lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Monday.
Dang said that the three lawyers who visited Truong will be joined by four more in the appellate trial expected to convene soon.
“We discussed and questioned Truong about everything we needed. [He] said that he is innocent and that it would be unlikely that he would have to admit his guilt at the appeals court,” said Dang.
Truong went missing in Bangkok in late January 2019 amid fears he had been seized by Vietnamese agents. Two months later he was revealed to be under arrest in Hanoi.
He was charged by police investigators in July 2019 with “abusing his position” in a case involving the sale of public land at an eventual loss to the state of over VND 13 billion (U.S. $560,000), a charge his lawyer described as controversial.
Dang said that at the meeting last week that his client claimed he is the victim of “a political hostile act.”
The charge was filed only after investigators failed to find sufficient evidence to convict him on another charge of illegally acquiring property, his wife and a family friend told RFA in an earlier report.
Truong had earlier been jailed in Vietnam from 2013 to 2015 for his writings criticizing Vietnam’s government.
Dang said that as a result of poor living conditions at the T16 prison, and because of the hot weather in the Hanoi area, his client has been unable to sleep and is dealing with a skin irritation covering his body.
Facebook user faces trial on Tuesday
Meanwhile in Lam Dong province, in the south of the country, Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong will stand trial Tuesday for posting information on Facebook about sensitive political and social issues.
Nguyen was arrested in September 2019 on charges of “making, storing, distributing, or disseminating information, documents, and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” in violation of Article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code. If convicted he could face a sentence of between five and 12 years.
His family has been unable to meet him since his arrest.
“[Penalties for] national security crimes are often designed to deter violators, so we don’t know if the sentence can be lowered or not,” Nguyen’s lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng told RFA.
The lawyer said that his client admitted to the violations, but said that his postings reflected his views about the social situation in Vietnam.
Nguyen often posted livestreamed comments about social issues in Vietnam and had shared many posts about land enforcement, environmental protests, and “Chinese crimes” in Vietnam with his 10,752 Facebook followers.
Human Rights Watch demanded that the Vietnamese government drop all charges and release him immediately in an October 2019 statement.
The 88 Project, an Illinois-based NGO that tracks Vietnamese political prisoners, last month reported that in 2019 an increasing number of people had been arrested under Article 117.
“Many of those charged with this crime had no history of activism and were solely targeted for their peaceful expression online. Forty percent of the people arrested in 2019 were online commentators,” the NGO said.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of which 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 Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.