Popular Vietnamese Blogger Jailed Over Critical Posts


2014.03.04
vtn-truong-duy-nhat-mar-2014.jpg Blogger Truong Duy Nhat stands trial at a local People's Court in Danang, March 4, 2014.
AFP PHOTO / VIETNAM NEWS AGENCY

A court in Vietnam on Tuesday ordered a popular blogger and rights campaigner jailed for two years over articles critical of government leaders in a conviction he slammed as a blow to freedom of expression in the one-party communist state, according to his lawyer.   

Truong Duy Nhat, 50, was found guilty of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” at the half-day trial in central Vietnam’s Danang city.

Nhat, who had maintained his innocence throughout the trial, intends to appeal the verdict, his lawyer Tran Vu Hai said.

“He informed me that … he will stop appealing when the courts declare he is innocent; if they don’t, he will appeal to the end,” Hai told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

Outside the courtroom, hundreds of supporters including several prominent bloggers from Danag and other cities gathered to protest the trial, which comes amid what rights groups say is an intensifying crackdown on online dissent.

The verdict prompted “deep concern” from the United States, with its embassy in Hanoi calling on Vietnam to release Nhat and “allow all Vietnamese to peacefully express their political views."

Overseas rights groups condemned the ruling as part of a relentless drive to squelch online dissent, with global press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders saying it was “outraged” by the conviction.

Article 258

Nhat, a former reporter at state-run newspapers who quit his job to start blogging, was sentenced under Article 258 of the penal code, which carries a maximum sentence of 7 years in prison.

He had been accused of posting articles that "were not true [and] defamed leaders of the party and state,” according to his indictment.

He was arrested in May last year, weeks after posting articles on his blog “Another Viewpoint” calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.

He had also conducted an online opinion poll ahead of a first-ever confidence vote on senior officials that the country’s parliament held at a session in June last year.

Free expression

During Tuesday’s trial, Nhat told the court he had been exercising his right to free speech, according to Hai.  

Hai had argued that Nhat did not go against the interests of the state by criticizing the government and its leadership and that the prosecution’s definition of the state's interests were not in accordance with the Constitution.

“The Constitution states clearly that the state’s interests are—as far as we understand—‘for the people, for their happiness, and for democracy’….  Truong Duy Nhat did not violate these,” he said.

Hai said the prosecution had fumbled in its counter-argument and that he believed the court had arrived at the verdict “without making clear all of the points raised by the defense."

Supporters gathered

Nhat’s wife, daughter, and younger brother were the only relatives allowed to attend the half-day trial, despite Hai’s requests to the court for permission for other relatives and friends to be present, he said.   

Outside the courthouse, scores of police and plainclothes security agents were deployed to block Nhat’s supporters from reaching the building.

The security personnel urged the supporters to leave the area, prompting arguments between the two sides, activists at the scene said.

“There [were] hundreds of people arguing with the security forces,” blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh told RFA from outside the building.  

Supporters hoping for a glimpse of Nhat as he entered the courthouse were dismayed to find he was brought in through the back gate, saying police had tricked them into thinking he would enter through the main doors.  

“Traffic police and other police stood in two lines [in front of the courthouse] as if preparing for Truong Duy Nhat’s arrival. However, all of us were fooled,” blogger Me Nam said.

Other bloggers who went to show their support for Nhat were Phan Dinh Thanh, Phuong Anh, Le Thanh Hai, and Pham Xuan Nguyên, as well as literature critic Pham Xuan Nguyen, some of them traveling from Hue, Quang Tri, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi.

Online crackdown

Vietnam has jailed dozens of bloggers and rights advocates in recent years over their online posts, with rights groups accusing the government of using vague national security provisions against them to silence dissent.

The Observatory for Human Rights condemned the ruling against Nhat and urged Vietnam “to immediately repeal draconian laws that severely restrict freedom of opinion and expression.”

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged Vietnamese authorities to stop persecuting independent bloggers.

"The harsh conviction of blogger Truong Duy Nhat shows once again the extraordinary measures that Vietnam's leaders are willing to take to crush criticism of their authoritarian rule," CPJ’s senior Southeast Asian representative Shawn Crispin said in a statement.

“He should not be imprisoned for merely expressing an opposition viewpoint,” he said.

Reporters Without Borders demanded the release of Nhat and “all the other detained bloggers, who are guilty solely of promoting freedom of information in Vietnam.”

“Nhat is being jailed for his commitment to Vietnam’s right to an alternative to the information provided by the state propaganda machine,” the group’s Asia representative Benjamin Israil said.

Reporters Without Borders lists Vietnam as an “Enemy of the Internet” and the third-largest prison in the world for netizens.

Vietnam is second only to China for the number of journalists jailed, according to CPJ's annual prison census, which counts 16 out of 18 Vietnamese reporters currently behind bars as bloggers.  

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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