Vietnamese writer jailed for spreading ‘propaganda’

New York, January 29, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a jail sentence given to a Vietnamese journalist on charges that she spread anti-state propaganda and called today for her immediate release.

Pham Thanh Nghien, a freelance writer, was arrested during a government crackdown on dissidents in September 2008 and originally charged with staging a protest against Vietnamese policy on a maritime dispute with China, according to international news reports. The prosecution changed the charges today and a court in northern Haiphong city sentenced her to four years imprisonment followed by three years’ house arrest for spreading anti-state propaganda, the reports said.

The court singled out an online article in which Nghien criticized officials for pocketing compensation intended for victims of fishermen killed by Chinese maritime patrols in 2007, according to The Associated Press. CPJ was unable to determine where the article was published. Nghien was also accused of criticizing the government in interviews with foreign media outlets during the half-day trial, which was closed to international journalists, news reports said.

“It is deeply concerning that prosecutors used Nghien’s articles as a pretext to imprison her for anti-government views,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ asia program coordinator. “This conviction leaves Vietnamese journalists and activists vulnerable to imprisonment on the basis of published work.”

Online commentator Nguyen Van Hai—who also wrote about the Sino-Vietnamese maritime contention over which nation sovereignty over the offshore Spratly islands, on his political blog Dieu Cay—was sentenced to two and a half years for alleged tax evasion in 2008, according to CPJ research.

Human Rights Watch awarded both Hai and Nghien Hellman/Hammett grants for persecuted writers in 2009.