A court in north-central Vietnam’s Nghe An province on Tuesday upheld a five-year prison term for jailed blogger Nguyen Van Oai, rejecting his appeal and returning him to jail, Vietnamese sources said.
Oai. 36, had been sentenced in September 2017 to five years, with an additional four years to be served under house arrest, after allegedly violating the terms of his probation after serving an earlier prison term for “attempting to overthrow” Vietnam’s government under Article 79 of the country’s penal code.
Article 79 is one of a number of vague statutes that authorities often use to detain writers and bloggers who criticize the country’s communist government and its policies.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service following Tuesday’s court hearing, defense attorney Ha Huy Son said that Oai’s sentence had been imposed for violating the terms of his probation, for which he received a two-year term, and for “acting against persons on duty,” for which he was sentenced to three years.
“That verdict was unfair and not objective, though,” Son said, adding, “I told the court that he is not guilty.”
Also speaking to RFA, Oai’s mother Nguyen Thi Lieu said that Oai at his trial last year had not pleaded guilty to the charges made against him.
“My child is innocent, and the court was unjust,” Lieu said. “They should hold another trial.”
Oai looked thin and appeared to be in poor health at his appearance in court on Tuesday, said Oai’s wife Linh Chau, who along with Oai’s mother was one of the two relatives allowed to attend the hearing.
“He was also sometimes prevented from expressing his thoughts,” she said.
Two of the witnesses who spoke at his hearing were the police officers Oai was accused of “resisting” when they came to arrest him on Jan. 19, 2017 for violating the terms of his probation, Chau said.
“Both Oai and his lawyer considered this unreasonable,” she said.
“Oai is a patriot and is not guilty,” Chau said. “He simply raised his voice for freedom in his country.”
Supporters beaten, banners torn away
Supporters outside the court building on Tuesday were beaten by police, with banners calling for Oai’s release ripped from their hands, some of those present told RFA.
“At around 10:30 a.m., some plainclothes men attacked the crowd and snatched the banners from Oai’s relatives,” one protester said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“One guy named Thong was beaten by thugs in civilian clothes, who then grabbed him and dragged him into a car. Someone named Huynh was also arrested, and some women who tried to intervene were beaten too,” he said.
Ho Huy Thong, 16, and Nguyen Van Huynh, 17, were struck repeatedly with batons by police during their arrest and at the police station, the two men told RFA following their release.
“When I was put in the car, they hit me 15 to 16 times in the head, and when I refused to answer their questions later at the police station, they hit me on the hands another five to six times,” Thong said.
Accused by police of recording the protest on his mobile phone, Thong was forced to kneel facing the wall and was then beaten again, he said.
After being forced into a car, Huynh was also beaten, he said.
“One man held me down by my neck, while two others jumped and stomped on my back. Another man hit me with his elbow, and another man slapped my face,”Huynh said. “My shoulders and spine still hurt.”
Police upset by cameras
Police were especially angered by supporters’ attempts to record the protest on their phone cameras, another protester, Nguyen Thi Huong, told RFA.
“They took our phones away and tore down our banners,” he said, adding, “Most of them were in civilian clothes, but a few were in police uniform.”
As a member of the outlawed Viet Tan pro-democracy group and cofounder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience, Oai had frequently campaigned against social injustice on his Facebook page.
In August 2011, he was among a group of 14 Catholic and Protestant youths arrested as part of a crackdown on activists with ties to religious organizations.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.