An environmental activist in Vietnam has been sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” posts on Facebook, forcing the European Union to call the crackdown on online dissent a “worrying development”.
A southern provincial court on Thursday sentenced Nguyen Ngoc Anh, 39, to six years in prison for “producing, disseminating or spreading information and documents aimed at undermining” the country, state-controlled Vietnam News Agency reported.
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Citing an indictment, the report said Anh used social media to urge demonstrations in June and September last year. The report did not specify the content of the posts but said they received 45,000 likes and more than 130,000 comments.
Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, was arrested last September after he was found writing and sharing “anti-state” posts and videos on his Facebook account between March and August last year, according to a police statement.
The statement said Anh also incited people to join protests in June and during Vietnam’s National Day in September last year.
Anh had protested against Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a Taiwanese-owned company, which was found by the Vietnamese government in 2016 to have killed hundreds of tonnes of fish off the coast of central Vietnam.
He also vocally supported political prisoners, according to a statement by the New York-based Human Rights Watch.
EU calls for release
In a statement on Thursday, the EU’s foreign service said it expects the Vietnamese authorities to immediately release Anh, as well as all the bloggers and human right defenders imprisoned for having “peacefully expressed their views”.
“Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s right to peaceful freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Vietnamese Constitution,” said the statement.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said on Wednesday that the trial was a show to “frighten others who might dare to question the government”.
“Nguyen Ngoc Anh’s only crime is to speak his mind against injustice and oppression,” Robertson said.
Facebook is widely used in the country and serves as the main platform for both e-commerce and dissent.
In January, Vietnam accused Facebook of violating local law by allowing users to post anti-government comments.
The US social media giant said in a report last month that it increased the amount of content it restricted access to in Vietnam by over 500 percent in the last half of 2018.
A Facebook spokeswoman declined to comment on Thursday’s trial.
At least 128 prisoners of conscience are now behind bars in the communist country, according to Amnesty International, with 10 percent jailed for social media posts.