A court in Vietnam on Thursday handed down a 10-year prison term to a rights activist accused of criticizing the government on social media in the third trial held this week of political dissidents in the one-party communist state.
Don Nam Trung was convicted in a trial lasting just under four hours in the People’s Court of Nam Dinh City in northern Vietnam. He had been charged with “spreading materials against the State” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Arrested on July 16 by a large group of police officers who broke into the house he shared with his girlfriend, Trung had taken part in several social movements and had spoken out against official corruption on his Facebook page.
He had also posted criticisms of the build-operate-transfer highways that Vietnam has adopted in recent years, sparking rare protests over toll collections described by many motorists as unfair.
Trung’s girlfriend told RFA that she was shocked by the sentence handed down by the court.
“It’s too unfair, damn it! It’s too harsh, and they are so cruel. Ten years in prison and four years on probation — I really didn’t think it could be that heavy,” she said.
Defense lawyer Dan Dinh Manh, writing on his own Facebook page on Thursday, said that Trung had rejected prosecutors’ arguments that he had committed any crimes. He had also refused to comment on the writings that prosecutors used to build their case against him, Manh said.
“Like almost all other verdicts handed down based on Article 117, today’s sentence is unjustifiable and unsatisfactory,” Manh said.
“In accordance with international practice, if criticisms directed against government policies, agencies, organizations or leaders are unsupported by the facts, the victims can always file a civil case and claim compensation.”
“That should be sufficient,” he said, adding that Trung now plans to appeal the court’s verdict against him.
Vietnam’s laws see criticisms as criminal offenses, Manh said.
“I would like to see Article 117 removed so that cases like this can be tried in the future as civil violations, as this would comply with international trends,” he said.
In a statement the day before Trung’s trial, New York-based Human Rights Watch slammed the government’s legal proceedings against him.
“Do Nam Trung is the latest victim of Vietnamese government retaliation against citizens who refuse to remain silent in the face of injustice and rights abuses,” the group said.
Others also convicted
Trung’s sentencing this week followed the trial on Wednesday of two land rights activists who were jailed for criticizing a deadly police assault last year against villagers living on disputed land outside Hanoi.
Trinh Ba Phuong and Nguyen Thi Tam were also convicted in a four-hour trial. Phuong received a 10-year prison term with five years’ probation, and Tam was sentenced to six years in prison with three years’ probation.
On Tuesday, independent journalist and activist Pham Doan Trang was sentenced in Hanoi to nine years in prison following her conviction under Article 117 for her writings advocating democracy and good governance in Vietnam.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers and Facebook personalities, as authorities sought to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January.
Arrests have continued through 2021.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Richard Finney.