Vietnam jails influential bloggers

Vietnam’s presidential palace. Source: Wikimedia
Hanoi has jailed a well-known political blogger and his assistant for “abusing democratic freedom”, their lawyer announced, in a verdict that was condemned by US human rights groups.

Blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy were jailed for five and three years respectively for abuse of their freedom and infringements upon state interests. Both denied any involvement with the website.

Judge Nguyen Van Pho said the blog’s contents “distort the lines and policies of the party and law of the state and vilify individuals”.

They were detained in 2014. The “Ba Sam” blogs attracted several million views.

Police broke up protests seeking their release outside the court.

Vietnam has been widely criticised for its crackdown on online dissent in a country where the internet is increasingly used to bypass the state-controlled media.

The blog was a mixture of news and commentary from several distinguished contributors.

Their lawyer Ha Huy Son described the ruling as unfair, adding that an appeal was likely.

“The evidence used during the trial and evidence cited in the verdict were different,” Son said. “The evidence referred to in the verdict had not been verified … there was no time to respond.”

Vinh, a former police officer and private investigator, is the son of a deceased cabinet minister and ambassador to the former Soviet Union. His strong connections with the ruling Communist Party make him an unusual target for the authorities.

The one-day trial, held in tight security, comes as the west stepped up diplomatic support for Hanoi. The authorities have been urged to stop arresting, imprisoning and intimidating critics.

The US embassy in Hanoi said it was disturbed that criminal laws were being used to gag opposition.

“We call on the government to release unconditionally these two individuals, as well as all other prisoners of conscience, and allow all Vietnamese to express their views peacefully, without fear of retribution,” the embassy said.

Hanoi is increasingly integrated with the west economically through several trade accords. It is Asean’s largest exporter to the United States, shipping around 1,700 sea containers a day filled with televisions, smartphones, brand-name clothing and agricultural and fisheries produce.

Shawn Crispin, regional representative of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, condemned the ruling as “a travesty of justice”.

“If Vietnam wants to be seen as a responsible member of the international community and reliable partner in multilateral agreements, including the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, these types of bogus anti-state convictions must stop immediately,” Crispin said.