Bangkok, March 31, 2016 - In a mounting clampdown on dissent, Vietnam sentenced a prominent blogger on Wednesday to four years in prison on charges of disseminating "propaganda against the state," according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentence and calls for the immediate release of all journalists wrongfully held behind bars in Vietnam.
The Ho Chi Minh City People's Court sentenced blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia, also known as Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, to four years in prison and three years of probation under article 88 of the Penal Code, which carries maximum penalties of 20 years in prison for the ill-defined offense of "propagandizing" against the state, according to news reports. Prosecutors claimed that 22 of Gia's articles, 14 of which were published online, were defamatory of Communist Party leaders and the state, reports said.
Gia was held for 15 months in pre-trial detention. It was not immediately clear if that time served would count against his four year sentence.
"The conviction of blogger Nguyen Ngoc Gia underscores the extraordinary lengths Vietnam's leaders will take to suppress any criticism of their rule," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Rather than imprisoning journalists on trumped up charges, Vietnam should instead strive to abolish the various laws that are habitually used to suppress free speech and independent journalism."
Gia was first arrested in December 2014 at his home in southern Ho Chi Minh City. He was a frequent contributor to the independent blogs Lam Bao Dan (People's Newspaper) and Dan Luan (People's Opinion), according to news reports at the time of his arrest. Gia was also a frequent contributor to Radio Free Asia, reports said. The reports said he had published blog posts and commented on air to Radio Free Asia on the cases of three bloggers who were then detained on anti-state charges before his arrest.
Gia's conviction comes amid an intensifying clampdown on dissent. On March 23, bloggers Nguyen Huu Vinh and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy were sentenced to five and three years, respectively, under article 258 of the Penal Code, which provides for maximum penalties of seven years in jail for "abusing democratic freedoms," according to CPJ research.
Vietnam held at least six reporters behind bars, including Gia, Vinh and Thuy, when CPJ conducted its annual global census of imprisoned journalists on December 1, 2015.