Photo by Defend the Defenders.

[Vietnam] Court sentences activist to 6 years in prison for Facebook posts

For Facebook posts on environment and democracy, Vietnamese activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh was sentenced to six years imprisonment today, 06 June 2019. The decision was handed down by the People’s Court of Ben Tre province during the one-day trial.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh, 39, was charged with a national security offense under Article 117 of the 2015 Penal Code, for “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items for the purpose of opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam.” He was arrested by police at Ben Tre province, where he lives, on 30 August 2018.

Human Rights Watch reported that state media claimed Nguyen Ngoc Anh “used his personal Facebook account to publicly write, share many articles and video clips, and access many live streams of reactionary subjects both inside and outside Vietnam, with the content that propagandize (sic) badly about the State and the Communist Party of Vietnam; he called, agitated, and incited people to protest and destroy in June 2018 and the upcoming celebration of September 2.” September 2 commemorates the proclamation 
of Vietnam’s independence from France.

In April 2016, Nguyen Ngoc Anh participated in protests against the Vietnam marine life disaster, also known as the Formosa environmental disaster, which caused massive fish deaths and several health problems in central Vietnam. He had also expressed support for political prisoners, who are advocating for democracy, labor rights, and free expression in the one-party state.

“Today’s show trial and sentencing of Nguyen Ngoc Anh clearly demonstrate that the Vietnamese government will stop at nothing to crack down on dissent. The message is clear: anyone who opposes the state and keeps powers in check will be suppressed at all costs,” said Tess Bacalla, executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

Nguyen Ngoc Anh is among several activists who have been arrested since 2016 for trying to raise public awareness on the Formosa disaster, and other social and political issues in Vietnam.

Between 2016 and 2017, state authorities arrested political bloggers Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (also known as Mother Mushroom) and Ho Van Hai, and Radio Free Asia correspondent Nguyen Van Hoa, for their reports on the disaster (see SEAPA’s 2017 World Press Freedom Day report on Vietnam). Nguyen Van Hoa is now serving a seven-year sentence, Ho Van Hai a four-year jail term. Mother Mushroom was released in October 2018 and went into exile in the United States shortly thereafter.

In May 2019, Amnesty International reported that 10 percent of the 128 political prisoners in Vietnam were jailed for expressing their opinion on social media platforms such as Facebook.

Following the implementation of the country’s Cybersecurity Law in January 2019, the Vietnamese government was expected to intensify its surveillance and crackdown against dissent. (Listen to SEAPA podcast to know more about Vietnam’s Cybersecurity Law.)

“Fears of heightened risks faced by dissidents and activists, or anyone who tries to express his opinion in the digital sphere, were not unfounded. Nguyen’s case demonstrates this gruesome reality as the government continues to abuse its power and remains unrelenting in its use of legislation to restrain basic human rights,” said Bacalla.

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