Critical blogger given 30 months in prison

New York, September 11, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns a Vietnamese court decision on Wednesday to imprison blogger Nguyen Van Hai, better known by his penname Dieu Cay, on charges of tax evasion.

The court in Ho Chi Minh City, in southern Vietnam, convicted Hai, 55, in a closed-door trial, sentencing him to 30 months in prison, according to news reports. He was first arrested on April 19 and held in detention for five days before authorities brought charges against him.

Hai was not allowed family visits during his five-month detention before the trial and he was not allowed to choose his own defense team, according to the Web site of the Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party), an exiled pro-democracy political party.  

According to Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA), Hai was convicted for failing to pay 10 years of back taxes on a part of his residence that he rented to an optical shop. One of his lawyers quoted in the same news story said that the contract agreement with the shop stipulated that the tenant, rather than the owner, must pay the tax.

The DPA report said Hai belonged to a group of bloggers known as the League of Independent Journalists, and that his colleagues believed he was sentenced for his critical reporting on nationalistic protests launched in January against China’s claims to the nearby Spratly and Paracel Islands.

“We call in the strongest terms possible for the relevant authorities to overturn the trumped-up conviction of blogger Nguyen Van Hai,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia Program director. “Hai has an established reputation for critical commentary in Vietnam’s blogosphere. There is little doubt that his arrest is due to his postings critical of the government.”  

Hai had also written critically on his blog about territorial concessions the former government of North Vietnam, the predecessor to the current ruling Communist Party, made to China over the Paracel Islands in 1958. Before his arrest, Hai had called for demonstrations against China’s Olympic torch relay when it was scheduled to pass through Ho Chi Minh City on April 29, according to Viet Tan.