Nguyen Huu Vinh, a 60 year-old Vietnamese blogger, was sentenced by the People’s Court in Hanoi to five years in prison over publishing anti-state blog posts. The prominent blogger was given the sentence along with his assistant, 36 year-old Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, who will be serving three years behind bars. Both were convicted under Article 258 of the penal code for “abusing democratic freedoms to violate the interests of the state”. The criminal offence is punishable in Vietnam by up to 7 years in prison.
Vinh and Thuy were arrested on May 5, 2014 and have been held in custody ever since. Vinh, commonly known as Anh Ba Sam, is a former police officer and the son of a late Vietnamese government Minister. He was accused of setting up three blogs between the years 2009 and 2014, where he continuously analysed a variety of political and social topics in Vietnam.
Thuy was assigned to administer two of the latest blogs, which gained great popularity of 3.7 million visitors. Thuy denied in court any involvement in publishing the critical articles and claimed that “she did not know who had written the articles or posted them”.
According to the indictment, the two dozen articles which allegedly have been posted by the two were “based on untruths and groundless content which distorted the policies of the Vietnamese Party and the state’s law” and “causing anxiety and worry“. The critical articles were deemed by court to be one-sided and biased against the Vietnamese government.
Tran Van Tao, Vinh’s attorney, claimed that his client had no criminal intentions and said during the trial:
“Vinh told me several times that he established the blogs only to create a connecting channel between the government and people”
According to the Freedom House report of 2015, Vietnam’s status on freedom of the net is “Not Free”. It is reported that political and social content is being blocked, bloggers and social media users are being arrested and the press is not free.
According to the 2015 report, 29 netizens are being held behind bars, among them at least eight bloggers who were arrested or prosecuted under the criminal offence of abusing democratic freedom to infringe on state interests. Additional laws and regulations require tight “registration and licensing requirements for new social media sites”, which may also be subjected to punishment under Decree 174 for critical content. These policies marks Vietnam as “one of the worst jailers of bloggers in the world”.