Bangkok, September 24, 2012–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harsh prison sentences handed down today to three prominent Vietnamese online journalists convicted of anti-state charges. In a widening crackdown on press and Internet freedoms, Vietnamese courts have sentenced six journalists and bloggers to prison in the last five weeks.
Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Court sentenced Nguyen Van Hai, who writes under the blog name Dieu Cay, to 12 years, according to news reports. Ta Phong Tan, a former policewoman who maintained a blog known as “Justice and Truth,” was sentenced to 10 years, and Phan Thanh Hai, who wrote under the penname “Anh Ba Saigon,” was given four years, news reports said. All had posted blog entries deemed critical of the Communist Party-dominated government, the reports said.
“Today’s sentences, imposed against three online journalists who were merely expressing critical opinions, mark a new low point for press freedom in Vietnam,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “We call upon the judicial authorities to reverse these outrageous convictions and sentences and ask Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s government to reform its repressive laws in line with international standards of freedom of expression.”
The sentences were handed down in a six-hour summary trial and were consistent with the harsh prison terms recently given to pro-democracy and human rights activists. All three bloggers were held in detention ahead of today’s ruling and will be required to spend between three to five years under house arrest after their jail sentences are served.
The online journalists had posted the entries, judged illegal under Article 88 of the penal code that bars propagandizing against the state, to the Free Journalists Club website, which they had founded, as well as to their personal blogs, according to news reports.
“They abused the popularity of the Internet to post articles which undermined and blackened Vietnam’s (leaders), criticizing the (Communist) party (and) destroying people’s trust in the state,” Court President Nguyen Phi Long said in justifying the ruling, according to an Agence France-Presse report.
Police intimidated family members of the three bloggers and warned them against attending the trial. Nguyen Tri Dung, Hai’s son, told CPJ by email that police intentionally rammed his mother’s car on Friday in Bac Lieu province and that she was summoned to report to a police station coincident with today’s trial. He also said that police had warned the family of the other two bloggers against wearing black T-shirts as a symbol of protest at the trial. The Free Journalists Network of Vietnam told CPJ on Monday that police had detained Hai’s son and mother to prevent them from attending. Dan Thi Kim Lieng, Tan’s mother, died after setting herself on fire in July to protest against the government’s handling of the case, news reports said.
In August, Dinh Dang Dinh was sentenced to six years on anti-state charges, and Le Thanh Tun to five years, both in connection with their blog postings, according to news reports. Journalist Nguyen Van Khuong was jailed this month for undercover bribery conducted during a corruption investigation, news reports said.
Including today’s convictions, at least 14 journalists are now imprisoned in Vietnam, according to CPJ research. A CPJ special report released last week reveals how Vietnamese authorities have ramped up repression of both old and new media even as they promote an open, globalized economy.
*For more data and analysis on Vietnam, visit CPJ’s Vietnam page here.