A court in Vietnam has upheld the jail sentence handed down to two political bloggers in a decision which the US State Department has gone on record as describing as “troubling”.
The bloggers in question are Nguyen Huu Vinh, aged 60, and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, who is 36 and worked as an assistant to Nguyen Huu Vinh.
The two men were arrested in May 2014 and charged by the Vietnamese authorities under article 258 of country’s penal code for the offence of “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interest of the state.”
What was their offence? Well, Nguyen Huu Vinh was a former Vietnamese police officer and Communist Party member who ran a blog called Ba Sam (which translates as ‘Talking Nonsense’). On this blog, he was trying to bring news from a different perspective to readers. And it proved to be fairly popular with its mix of news and comment, along with translations of overseas articles about Vietnam.
The blogs readership reached several million both inside Vietnam and in the overseas Vietnamese diaspora. However, inevitably, some of the content was critical of a critical nature and it was this which led to their arrest.
Their case finally made it to court in March 2016, when Nguyen Huu Vinh was sentenced to five years in jail and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy to three years. The trial saw unprecedented protests outside the court with dozens of other bloggers and freedom campaigners opposing the charges. This was despite the Vietnamese police putting a number of people under house arrest in an effort to avoid such scenes.
This week their appeal against these charges was dismissed meaning they will now serve the sentences handed down to them.
Speaking at the US State Department daily news briefing, Mark Toner, the State Department spokesperson said “The use of criminal provisions by Vietnamese authorities to penalise individuals for exercising their right to freedom of expression … is … troubling.”
Unfortunately, this case is just the thin end of the wedge and one example of a growing trend of state-sponsored oppression in Vietnam towards people exercising their right to freedom of speech. The State Department was also referring to another case where a land rights campaigner was jailed for 20 months.
According to the campaign group Human Rights Watch, which is just one of the organisations which have been calling for the blogger’s release, there have been at least 18 bloggers jailed in Vietnam for similar offences, which are deemed to be “damaging to the state” in 2016 alone.
Brad Adams, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch commenting on this case warned that such political persecution by the Vietnamese government “will not stop [bloggers] from informing the Vietnamese people about the state of their country.”
He is of course absolutely right. Internet use in Vietnam is increasingly widespread and more and more people are learning that the internet can be a better source of information than the countless state-controlled media outlets that dominate the market in Vietnam.
And with the use of tools like a VPN, it is perfectly possible for Vietnamese people to not only browse whatever content they like anonymously, but also post news, comment, and opinion too.
A case such as this may serve to push the Vietnamese blogosphere further into the shadows, but they will only cause them to redouble their efforts to ensure that the people of Vietnam have access to the truth about their country and their government.