Freedom House condemns the conviction of 14 human rights defenders in Vietnam and calls for their immediate release and for the release of other jailed free speech advocates. Their conviction is the latest in an intensified attack by the government on those seeking to exercise their right to free speech, and their trial was one of the largest ever trials of human rights defenders in the country.
A provincial court in Vinh, Vietnam convicted the activists of “subversion of authorities,” sentencing 13 of the activists to three to 13 years in prison, and giving one activist a suspended sentence. The 14 activists – which included students, bloggers, and citizen journalists – were accused of having ties to the banned Viet Tan network, and were tried together in a sham trial that lasted only two days. Most of the activists are Catholic, a group often persecuted in Vietnam, reflecting the government’s poor record on religious freedom.
Freedom House is also concerned by reports that several family members and supporters of the activists who peacefully gathered outside the courthouse were harassed, assaulted, and detained by police officers.
This is the latest escalation in the government’s persecution of free speech advocates. Le Quoc Quan, a blogger who was arrested on December 27 and subsequently began a hunger strike to protest his detention, has been denied visits from his family and his lawyer.
Freedom of expression is severely curtailed in Vietnam, and the country is rated Not Free in Freedom in the World 2012, Freedom of the Press 2012, and Freedom on the Net 2012. Harassment of cyber-activists has been on the rise since 2008, with the government engaging in a targeted campaign against critics, cracking down on blogs and social media, and harassing and detaining independent bloggers and their families.