Vietnamese blogger handed harsh prison sentence

Bangkok, August 11, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the prison sentence handed down on Wednesday to French-Vietnamese blogger Pham Minh Hoang and joins international calls for the dual national’s immediate and unconditional release.

Hoang, a university professor and political blogger who wrote under the penname Phan Kien Quoc, was sentenced by the Ho Chi Minh City’s People’s Court to three years in prison and another three years of house arrest for “activities aimed at overthrowing the government,” according to local and international news reports.

“Like the other jailed bloggers in Vietnam, Pham Minh Hoang never should have been charged or detained in the first place,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ senior Southeast Asia representative. “How much longer can Vietnamese authorities jail innocent bloggers for expressing their views and still maintain legitimacy among an upwardly mobile population starved for independent news?” 

The subversion charges against Hoang initially referred to 29 of his blog entries, which included postings on corruption, environmental degradation, and perceived government failures to protect the country’s territorial sovereignty from Chinese expansionism, according to Viet Tan, an exiled pro-democracy party that the government considers a terrorist organization. But Hoang’s lawyer, Tran Vu Hai, said 33 different articles were cited by prosecutors as threatening national security, according to The Associated Press. The journalist was also convicted for having membership in Viet Tan. He plans on appealing the verdict, news reports said.

The political blogger and pro-democracy activist was first detained on August 13 last year and charged under Article 79 of the penal code, which covers charges related to subversion against the state. The time he spent in pre-trial detention will count against his three-year prison sentence, news reports said. 

The journalist’s harsh sentencing comes amid an intensifying crackdown on dissent in Vietnam in which a number of political activists have been threatened or detained. On August 2, a Vietnamese court denied the appeal of prominent dissident and legal expert Cu Huy Ha Vu, who was sentenced to seven years in prison for charges related to propagandizing against the state. 

CPJ research shows that at least three other political bloggers–Nguyen Van Hai, Pham Thanh Nghien, and Phan Thanh Hai–are currently imprisoned in Vietnam. A new executive decree issued on January 6 that came into force in February gave authorities greater powers to penalize journalists, editors, and bloggers who report on issues deemed sensitive to national security.