A court in Hanoi on Wednesday handed down sentences to a journalist and a relative who tried to hide him from authorities.
Le Van Dung, an activist and independent journalist who publishes to Facebook and YouTube, was sentenced to five years in prison and five years’ probation for “propaganda against the state.”
The court handed Dung’s 66-year-old uncle Nguyen Van Son an 18-month suspended sentence for helping the journalist hide from police.
Dung denies the charges, according to his lawyers and family.
Ha Huy Son, one of the lawyers representing Dung, described the court’s decision as an “unjust verdict, with no basis.” He added that they will appeal.
Dung, a 51-year-old journalist also known as Le Dung Vova, was arrested for his reporting in June 2021.
He posted videos and articles to social media about corruption and land confiscations, and commented on political and social issues.
An indictment cited by state media alleged that Dung “made and posted to the internet 12 video clips” between March 2017 and September 2018 that included propaganda against the state, defamed the government, spread false news, caused confusion, and were insulted the “honor and prestige of the Party and State leaders.”
Vietnam’s state-run radio Voice of Vietnam quoted part of Dung’s statement to the court, in which he said it makes no sense to argue about the legal system in Vietnam.
His lawyer, Ha Huy Son, gave VOA the full statement.
In it, Dung said that the accusations against him have “no legal basis. It does not follow a standard or a rule. I am not guilty.”
A second lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, wrote on Facebook after the trial that while Dung admitted posting content to social media, “he has consistently rejected the views that the statements in the clips are illegal.”
Dung’s wife, Bui Thi Hue, told VOA that she and his mother were not allowed to attend the trial, even though the court said it was “open to public.”
The Hanoi People’s Court did not immediately respond to VOA’s request for comments.
Human Rights Watch earlier said Vietnam should drop the charges and that Dung is one of more than 60 people being prosecuted for speaking out.
“Vietnamese authorities persist in treating any sort of criticism of the government as a grave threat to be prosecuted with long prison terms,” the rights group’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said on Tuesday.
“International donors and trade partners of Vietnam should press Hanoi to listen to its critics instead of persecuting them,” he added.
With limited space for independent reporting in Vietnam, many independent bloggers and journalists use social media to report or comment on sensitive issues.
The country has one of the worst records on the global press freedom index, ranking 175 out of 180 countries where 1 is freest. Accusations of propaganda against the state and abusing freedoms are regularly used to jail critics, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders says.
Many face lengthy sentences.
An activist arrested in July on propaganda charges lost his appeal against the sentencing on Thursday.
The appeals court in Nam Dinh province upheld a sentence of 10 years’ prison and four years’ probation for rights activist Do Nam Trung, his lawyer told VOA.
“This is an unjust judgment,” said the lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh. He added that under Vietnam’s penal code, violations of speech should be punished only under civil charges.
“Trung has held the view that his statements in his video clips and articles are exercising his right to freedom of speech as provided by the constitution, and therefore he believes that the verdict is wrong”, Manh said.
Trung, 40, was arrested on July 6, 2021, for posting six video clips that authorities said were “distorting content” and “defaming the government,” according to state-run media.
A court in December sentenced him to prison.
“Vietnam routinely prosecutes people for simply expressing their views critical of the government, making it one of the most dangerous countries in Southeast Asia to be a human rights activist,” said Robertson of Human Rights Watch.
“Authorities should immediately and unconditionally release [Trung] for speaking his mind about the government. Vietnam should also immediately repeal the rights-abusing charge of ‘propaganda against the state,’ which has been used so frequently to target government critics,” he added.
This story originated in VOA’s Vietnamese service.