Bangkok, March 19, 2014–In a mounting clampdown on Internet freedom in Vietnam, blogger Pham Viet Dao was sentenced to prison today for online posts critical of the Communist Party-led government, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ruling and calls for his immediate release.
In a two-hour trial, Hanoi’s People’s Court ruled that dozens of Dao’s blog entries violated Article 258 of the penal code, a vague and draconian law that bans “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state.” Dao, who was first taken into police custody in June 2013 and held in pre-trial detention until today’s verdict, was handed a 15-month sentence, news reports said.
Judge Ngo Tu Hoc ruled that Dao’s articles “distorted, vilified, and smeared” senior Communist Party leaders and that his blogging activities were “dangerous to society, causing anxiety among the public and reducing people’s trust in the leadership of the Party and the state,” according to news reports.
Dao represented himself in court without a lawyer and maintained his innocence of the anti-state charge. He said ahead of today’s verdict he would appeal if found guilty, reports said.
A former Culture Ministry official and long-standing Communist Party member, Dao’s critical articles about Vietnam’s one-party system, top leaders, and the government’s handling of ongoing territorial disputes with China were widely read in the blogosphere. His blog was inaccessible soon after his arrest last year.
“Today’s conviction of Pham Viet Dao underscores Vietnam’s reputation as one of the world’s worst jailer of journalists,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “The notion that independent journalism could represent an ‘abuse of democratic freedom’ is simply farcical. Authorities should release Dao and all the other journalists now held on bogus anti-state charges.”
Dao is the third Vietnamese journalist to be convicted in recent months under Article 258. Blogger Dinh Nhat Uy was given a 15-month suspended sentence and one year of house arrest last October for Facebook posts deemed by authorities to be anti-state propaganda. Earlier this month, blogger Truong Duy Nhat was sentenced to two years in prison for blog posts critical of the government.
With 18 reporters behind bars, Vietnam is the fifth worst jailer of journalists in the world, according to CPJ’s annual prison census conducted on December 1. Of those behind bars, 16 have been imprisoned for their online work, CPJ research shows.