Bangkok, November 28, 2017--Vietnamese authorities should immediately release the blogger Nguyen Van Hoa who was sentenced on Monday to seven years in prison on charges of disseminating "propaganda against the state," the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In a one-day trial, a court in the central coastal province of Ha Tinh sentenced Hoa to seven years in prison and three years of house arrest under article 88 of the penal code, an anti-state provision that carries maximum 20-year prison terms for the offense of "propagandizing" against the state, according to news reports.
Prosecutors said the blogger's reporting, including material on an industrial toxic spill that devastated wide areas of Vietnam's central coast in mid-2016, was aimed at "propagating against, distorting and defaming the government." The Associated Press reported that the spill was among Vietnam's worst environmental disasters.
"The conviction and sentencing of blogger Nguyen Van Hoa represents a new low for press freedom in Vietnam," said CPJ Senior Southeast Asia Representative Shawn Crispin. "Hoa's reporting on an environmental disaster is clearly in the public's interest; jailing whistle-blowing journalists is not. Vietnam must stop its senseless repression of independent reporters."
Authorities held Hoa for over 10 months in pre-trial detention. It was not immediately clear if this time would count against his sentence or if the blogger would appeal.
Hoa, a freelance blogger, videographer, and photographer who has reported for the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Asia's Vietnamese language service, was first arrested on January 11, 2017, at his home in Ha Tinh, according to news reports.
Police initially told Hoa's family that the blogger was being detained under Article 258 of the penal code, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms," Rohit Mahajan, a Radio Free Asia spokesperson, told CPJ in mid-January.
In April, Vietnamese authorities released a short video in which Hoa confessed his guilt and requested forgiveness, according to a report from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees Radio Free Asia.
Hoa's conviction follows the sentencing in June of blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu, also known as "Me Nam" or "Mother Mushroom," to 10 years in prison for "propagandizing" against the state in part for her reporting on the same toxic spill, CPJ documented. A court is scheduled to hear Nhu's appeal on November 30, according to reports.