A court in Vietnam sentenced three bloggers for producing “anti-state propaganda”.
Blogger Nguyen Van Hai, alias Dieu Cay, was sentenced on Monday to 12 years in prison and policewoman turned dissident Ta Phong Tan was given 10 years, while Phan Thanh Hai, the only one of the trio to plead guilty, was handed a four-year term. after a trial lasting just a few hours.
The bloggers were charged with conducting propaganda against the one-party communist state under Article 88 of the criminal code, which rights groups say is one of many “vaguely defined articles” used to prosecute dissidents.
“Their crimes were especially serious with clear intention against the state,” Court President Nguyen Phi Long said, adding that “they must be seriously punished”.
All of the defendants will also have to serve between three and five years under house arrest after they complete their prison sentences.
“They abused the popularity of the Internet to post articles which undermined and blackened (Vietnam’s) leaders, criticising the (Communist) party (and) destroying people’s trust in the state,” Long said.
Nguyen Van Hai, whose plight was als highlighted by US President Barack Obama, and Tan had “caused disorder” in the court and so were not allowed to make closing statements, he added.
In a speech that was curtailed when the audio feed from the courtroom was cut off, Nguyen Van Hai said he had never been against the communist state.
The charges relate to political articles the bloggers posted on the banned Vietnamese website “Free Journalists Club” as well as their postings on their own blogs, denouncing corruption and injustice and criticising Hanoi’s foreign policy.
Dieu Cay, one of the founders of the Club of Free Journalists, is known for his writings calling for greater respect for human rights and democratic reforms. He is also known for his criticisms of China’s claims over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly called on the Vietnamese government to drop the charges and release the three bloggers immediately.
Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 172 out of 179 countries in its 2011-2012 press freedom index and identified the authoritarian state as an “Enemy of the Internet” because of systematic use of cyber-censorship.