The verdicts are the latest in a continuing crackdown on dissent ahead of a key ruling party meeting this month.
By Al Jazeera
A court in Vietnam has found three journalists guilty of charges of spreading propaganda against the state, handing them jail sentences of between 11 and 15 years.
Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan – all prominent members of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) – were sentenced by the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court on Tuesday.
A lawyer for Dung and Tuan told DPA news agency that Dung was given a 15-year sentence, while Thuy and Tuan were each sentenced to 11 years in prison.
“The court did not accept any of my arguments,” Dang Dinh Manh told DPA. “The sentences are too hard, especially for Le Huu Minh Tuan, as the court only found six of his articles violating the government’s regulations.”
The three were charged with “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items that contain distorted information about the people’s government”.
The verdicts on Tuesday are the latest in a continuing crackdown against political dissidents, activists and other independent voices as the ruling Communist Party prepares for its national congress this month. The high-level meeting takes place every five years and dozens of people have been detained in its lead up, according to human rights groups.
Pham Chi Dung, 54, who has taken part in anti-China demonstrations and led campaigns in support of human rights, was arrested in November 2019 shortly after signing a joint letter urging the European Union to delay the approval of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement until Vietnam improved its human rights record. The letter was published on the Voice of America website.
A 69-year-old former army veteran, Nguyen Tuong Thuy was known for his work to help political prisoners and land rights defenders. He was arrested in May 2020 and his family say that during interrogation he smashed his mobile phone on the floor rather than reveal its password to police.
Le Huu Minh Tuan, 31, wrote under the pen name of Le Tuan on topics including the Hong Kong protests and civil society in Russia and was arrested in June 2020.
Prior to the journalists’ sentencing, the representatives of Luat Khoa magazine and The Vietnamese magazine said “these journalists are being persecuted and brought to trial because they have exercised their rights of free speech, free press and freedom of assembly”.
“The Vietnamese government claims to respect democracy, but that’s a lie,” Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in a statement.
“Democracy dies without freedom of expression and the press, and the work of independent journalists like these three who dare expose malfeasance and demand reforms to end abuse of power.”