Vietnamese blogger sentenced on anti-state charges

Bangkok, March 4, 2014–Vietnamese blogger Truong Duy Nhat was sentenced to prison today for online posts critical of the country’s Communist Party-led government, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ruling and urges Vietnamese authorities to stop persecuting independent bloggers.

A court in the central city of Danang ruled that entries on Nhat’s personal blog, Nhat Mot Goc Nhin Khac (Another Point of View), violated Article 258 of the penal code, a vague law that prohibits “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state.” Convictions under Article 258 carry a maximum of seven years in prison, news reports said. Nhat was given a two-year prison sentence, the reports said.

The indictment said Nhat’s articles “were not true and defamed leaders of the party and state, creating a one-sided pessimistic view,” according to Agence France-Presse. Tran Vu Hai, Nhat’s defense lawyer, told journalists that Nhat maintained his innocence at the half-day trial. It was not immediately clear if Nhat intended to appeal the conviction.

Nhat, a former journalist for state media outlets, often criticized Vietnam’s one-party state system and government policy toward China on his blog. An April 2013 entry called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong for their perceived political and economic mismanagement. Nhat was taken into police custody in May 2013 and held in pre-trial detention until today’s ruling.

“Today’s harsh conviction of blogger Truong Duy Nhat shows once again the extraordinary measures that Vietnam’s leaders are willing to take to crush criticism of their authoritarian rule,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Like many bloggers in Vietnam, Nhat helped fill an important gap left by Vietnam’s state-dominated and highly censored news media. He should not be imprisoned for merely expressing an opposition viewpoint.”

Nhat’s sentencing comes amid a mounting crackdown on Vietnam’s independent bloggers. 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 journalism, CPJ research shows.