Vietnam jails blogger and critic pham chi dung for 15 years

Freelance journalists of the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam Pham chi Dung, right, Le Huu Minh Tuan, center, & Nguyen Tuong Thuy stand during their trial Jan. 5, 2021.

A Vietnamese court on Tuesday sentenced Pham bỏ ra Dung, a prominent government critic & contributor to lớn Voice of America (VOA), khổng lồ 15 years in prison for “making và disseminating propaganda against the state.”

Dung’s co-accused — the journalists Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan — were each sentenced to lớn 11 years in prison, & all three will face three years’ probation after their release, a defense lawyer said.

Dung, 55, is the president và founder of the Independent Journalist Association of Vietnam. Established in 2014, the platform advocates for freedom of expression, truyền thông freedom and democracy in a country where all truyền thông is state owned & the Communist tiệc ngọt has built a large apparatus khổng lồ stifle dissent.

Authorities summoned Dung several times in connection with the association before his arrest in 2019.

Lawyer says verdicts harsh

Nguyen Van Mieng, one of two lawyers defending Dung và Thuy, told VOA the verdicts were harsh. “These three people demonstrated their rights of freedom of press & advocate for democracy và human rights, but were convicted under the charge ‘propaganda against the state,’” said Mieng.

Authorities accused them of advocating for changing the political regime, Mieng said, adding that all three rejected the accusations.

“In his final statement khổng lồ the court, Pham chi Dung said that if he was sentenced lớn a harsh verdict, it would be a blatant violation of freedom of the press, as well as other democracy and human rights in Vietnam,” Mieng told VOA.

International rights groups including Amnesty International say the verdict underscores the government’s contempt for không lấy phí media, particularly ahead of the Party’s national congress, which is due khổng lồ take place this month.

“Even by its own deeply repressive standards, the severity of the sentences show the depths being reached by Vietnam’s censors,” Amnesty’s deputy regional director, Emerlynne Gil, said.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the sentences were “clearly designed to extinguish any size of civil society debate” ahead of the congress.

Poor truyền thông media freedom record

Vietnam has a poor media freedom record, ranking 175th out of 180 countries, where 1 is the most free, according to RSF’s press freedom Index. The government bans independent or privately owned media outlets, exerts strict control over radio and TV stations and printed publications, and routinely blocks access lớn politically sensitive websites.

Dung’s wife, Bui Thi Hong Loan, who attended Tuesday’s hearing in Ho đưa ra Minh City, told VOA she was not surprised by the sentence but that the verdicts & evidence presented against her husband were “ambiguous.”

The court said that the journalists had regular liên hệ with politically dissatisfied groups và posted articles that distorted the policies of the party and state, the Vietnamese state-run news website VNExpress reported.

Their actions “endanger society, oppose the State and disrupt social solidarity,” the court ruled.

Dung, Thuy & several others are accused in an indictment of creating the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam to lớn “fight & change the current political institutions of Vietnam.” Dung’s work with the association và his writing for foreign outlets including the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees VOA and Radio free Asia (RFA), were cited in the indictment.

"Appalled by "heavy sentences"

International truyền thông and human rights watchdogs have condemned the verdict.

“RSF is truly appalled by these very heavy sentences. It is all the more shocking lớn know that the hearing was less than half a day long,” Daniel Bastard, head of the Asia-Pacific desk for RSF, wrote khổng lồ VOA Vietnamese.

“It shows the current Communist các buổi tiệc nhỏ leadership"s total contempt for the social Republic of Vietnam"s constitution and its Article 25, which proclaims press freedom. This decision has again demonstrated the shoddiness of Vietnamese justice,” Bastard said.

The Committee lớn Protect Journalists described the sentences as “outrageous” and said the verdict shows “the country’s government has no intention of allowing even the most basic elements of a không lấy phí press.”

And Human Rights Watch said in a statement, “Democracy dies without freedom of expression và the press, & the work of independent journalists like these three who dare expose malfeasance và demand reforms to over abuse of power.”

Vietnamese authorities arrested freelancer Dung on November 21, 2019; Thuy, a 70-year-old blogger for RFA, in May; và Le Huu Minh Tuan, 31, a representative of the younger generation of independent journalists, in June.

Charges called "bogus"

Ahead of the trial, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called the charges “bogus.”

“If the ruling buổi tiệc ngọt is so assured in its leadership, it should demonstrate its confidence by respecting civil and political rights, ending its tight control of the press, và allowing independent journalists to freely voice their opinions instead of silencing them with arrest and long prison sentences,” he said.

Vietnam is the second-worst jailer of journalists in Asia, after China, with at least 15 behind bars according to lớn data released last month by CPJ.