A court in southern Vietnam’s Hau Giang province jailed a Vietnamese Facebook user this week for seven years for posts satirizing and “offending” Vietnamese political leaders, sources in the country said.
Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, an aquaculture expert born in 1982, was accused of anti-state activity under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code, but denied the charges, saying she had intended only to voice her concerns over social issues in the one-party communist state, her lawyer told RFA on Jan. 20 after Dinh’s trial.
Five stories posted by Dinh on her Facebook page and attracting 131 comments and 50 shares were deemed by the court to have “satirized, ridiculed, and offended” party and state leaders, defense attorney Nguyen Van Mieng said.
“The judges based their decision on three appraisals, called judicial assessments, of [Dinh’s] ideology, with two of those three articles appraised by the Department of Culture, Sport and Tourism,” Nguyen said.
“But according to regulations, that department has no role to play in assessing materials related to national security cases,” he said.
Dinh’s defense team asked the court to summon the person who had appraised Dinh’s postings, but the court would not call them in, Nguyen said, adding that the two appraisals submitted to the court did not reach the standard required for judicial assessments.
“But they concluded anyway that Dinh Thi Thu Thuy was guilty of a crime and convicted her for offenses in accordance with Article 117,” Nguyen said.
Dinh admitted at her trial to writing the offending stories and posting them on her Facebook page, but said she had done this only to voice her concerns over environmental pollution and other social and educational issues in Vietnam, and had never intended to oppose the state, Nguyen said.
In a statement released before Dinh’s trial, Human Rights Watch Asia advocacy director John Sifton called the charges against Dinh “overbroad and vague criminal provisions, which allow the government to try and convict anyone who speaks critically about their rule.”
“Yet again, we will likely see a Vietnamese citizen sent to prison for doing what millions of people around the world do every day: posting their views on Facebook,” Sifton said.
Tightened security in Hanoi
Dinh’s sentencing came as authorities in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi further tightened security in the city in advance of the ruling Communist Party’s 13th National Congress, a meeting held every five years to select top leaders and approve economic policies for the next five years, and scheduled to run this year from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2.
City authorities on Jan. 21 directed officials to resolve outstanding cases of petitioner complaints at Hanoi’s central office, calling on police at the same time to disperse large public gatherings likely to cause security problems during the politically sensitive event.
Controls were also strengthened on Wednesday at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport, which saw mass demonstrations affecting security operations in June 2018 and was bombed in a terrorist attack in April 2017, state media said.
Writing in a Jan. 20 statement, rights group Amnesty International called on Vietnam’s next leadership group to reverse the country’s sharp decline in recent years of human rights, which the rights group said has seen the number of prisoners of conscience held in Vietnam’s jails double from 84 to 170 since the last Party Congress was held in 2016.
“The nomination of new national leaders provides an invaluable opportunity for Viet Nam to change course on human rights,” said AI’s Asia-Pacific Director Yamini Mishra.
“Vietnam has made some strides in helping to realize economic and social rights for many of its people, but this progress has been severely undermined by its continued repression of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.”
“As Viet Nam increasingly opens to global trade, its prison gate are slamming shut on an over-rising number of peaceful individuals,” Mishra said.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.