Nghia, who helped edit the pro-democracy news and commentary journal To Quoc (Fatherland) and contributed to several state-run publications, was first arrested at his home in northern Haiphong province. He was sentenced in a one-day trial on October 9, 2009, to six years in prison and four years’ house arrest under Article 88 of the penal code for “propagandizing” against the state.
The anti-state charges against Nghia were based on 57 articles, essays, and poems he wrote between 2007 until his arrest in 2008, including writings that the judges said were intended to “insult the Communist Party,” “distort the situation of the country,” and “slander and disgrace the country’s leaders,” according to an English-language translation of the verdict done by PEN International, a freedom of expression organization.
Many of the articles promoted democracy and were published in To Quoc, a publication unsanctioned by the state. He had been banned from contributing to state-run publications in 2003. Nghia was also charged with being a founding member of Bloc 8406, a banned pro-democracy movement that has called for pluralism and multi-party democracy. A Haiphong city appeals court upheld his sentence in January 2010.
In March 2012, Nghia was transferred from northern Ha Dong province’s B14 labor camp to central Nghe An province’s Thanh Chuong District Prison No. 6. His health, including complications from prostate cancer, has deteriorated while in detention.
In late 2012, authorities allowed him to undergo surgery. His wife, Nguyen Xuan Nghia, said he was returned to detention just four days after the medical procedure, according to Boat People SOS, a Vietnamese-American advocacy, research, and community development organization.
In July 2013, Nghia was put in solitary confinement after telling his wife during a visit that fellow detained blogger Nguyen Van Hai was on a hunger strike to protest against alleged prison abuses, according to English PEN. It is unclear if Nghia had been released in late 2013.
Nghia was awarded Human Rights Watch’s Hellman/Hammet prize in 2011.