Vinh, a blogger who established the popular Ba Sam news website and aggregator, was arrested at his home in the capital, Hanoi. On March 23, 2016, he was sentenced by Hanoi’s People’s Court to five years in prison for "abusing democratic freedoms to impinge on the interests of the state," an anti-state offense under Article 258 of the penal code.
In a one-day trial, Judge Nguyen Van Pho ruled that 24 articles had distorted the ruling Communist Party’s policies, reduced public trust in the party, and went against the interests of the nation, according to news reports. The articles appeared on two blogs, Dan Quyen (“Citizen’s Rights”) and Chep Su Viet (“Writing Vietnamese History”), which Vinh had created. The articles were also reposted on Ba Sam, the reports said.
The blogger’s lawyer, Ha Huy San, told The Associated Press before the ruling that both Vinh and his editorial assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh, had denied the charges, claiming they were no longer administering the blogs and had "no relation" to the postings in question. Ba Sam often posted links to state-run Vietnamese media, with critical commentary added by the blog’s administrators, as well as translated versions of international news on political, economic, and social issues, according to reports.
The site also published posts from activists and was considered a rallying point by activists for protests against China’s perceived encroachment on Vietnamese territories, news reports said. Vinh’s arrest came just after China stationed an oil rig in waters claimed by Vietnam in May 2014, setting off a months-long maritime standoff and anti-China riots.
Vinh, a former policeman and son of a Communist Party Central Committee member, announced in September 2012 that he would end his direct involvement with the blog due to increased pressure by the authorities, reports said. Due to frequent cyber-attacks on Ba Sam, the blog appeared at different web addresses, news reports said.
On September 22, 2016, an appellate court upheld Vinh’s conviction and full prison sentence. Presiding judge Ngo Hong Phuc ruled that "the crimes committed are serious, obviously infringing on the interests of the state" and that the prison sentences were "well-founded, in line with regulations of the law," reports said.
Vinh maintained his innocence at the one-day appeal trial, saying in testimony that he was "absolutely innocent" and that his conviction was not "evidence-based." Loudspeakers in a media room attached to the court were muted near the end of Vinh’s closing speech, reports said.
Vinh has suffered health complications while in prison. Vinh’s wife, Le Thi Minh Ha, said that when she visited her husband in prison on October 26, 2015, he had a rash that she suspected was symptomatic of liver and blood diseases caused by lack of sunlight, Ba Sam reported. Vinh’s lawyer, Truong Hoa Binh, filed a petition two days later to President Truong Tan Sang and other authorities demanding that Vinh be allowed to visit a specialist doctor to receive medicine and be given access to reading materials.
Minh Ha told CPJ that Vinh was frequently denied family and diplomatic prison visits in 2017 and that he was frequently held incommunicado in conditions that often made him ill. She said he was not allowed to receive legal documents or English books or to send petitions to authorities.
In late 2018, Vinh was being held at Prison No. 5 in Thanh Hoa province, according to the 88 Project, an advocacy group that monitors the status of Vietnamese political prisoners.