Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the sentence of three years in prison and three years of house arrest that a Ho Chi Minh City court passed today on Pham Minh Hoang, a university teacher and blogger with French and Vietnamese dual nationality, on a charge of trying to overthrow the government. Hoang tried to “undermine national security,” Judge Vu Phi Long said during today’s trial. Hoang has decided to appeal and asks the French authorities to pressure the Vietnamese government to review his sentence, a friend said
“Pham Minh Hoang should not be in prison,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He is a citizen who just expressed his views on matters of interest to Vietnam. His conviction reflects a dangerous trend in Vietnam towards ‘Chinese-style’ censorship.
“Prime Minister Nguyen Tang Dung, who has just been given another five-year term and has been appointed Security and Defence Council vice-president, has instigated a crackdown that bodes ill for journalists, bloggers and free speech defenders. We urge France and the rest of Europe to make their voices heard so that their citizen can be freed as soon as possible.”
A politically-committed blogger using the pen-name of Phan Kien Quoc, Hoang wrote articles that circulated widely online on education, the environment and the defence of Vietnam’s sovereignty in its relations with China. He participated in a campaign against Chinese mining of bauxite in Vietnam’s central highlands and gave extra-curricular training in leadership to his students. He is also a member of the banned pro-democracy party Viet Tan.
Armed security agents tried to intimidate journalists during today’s trial and to dissuade them from covering the proceedings. The judge ruled that Hoang had “blackened the image of the country” and was guilty of “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government.” Arrested on 13 August 2010, Hoang spent almost a year in pre-trial detention. Under Vietnamese law, this will be discounted from the jail time he has to serve.
Hoang’s conviction comes just eight days after an appeal court upheld a seven-year jail sentence for another prominent blogger and dissident, Cu Huy Ha Vu. And Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest and editor of the underground publication Tu Do Ngon Luan, was returned to jail just two weeks ago after a year and a half on parole because of very poor health.
Reporters Without Borders wrote to the prime minister on 8 August urging him to “reverse this trend” and to “stop the political arrests and trials.”
Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Nga insisted on 27 July that “all of the basic rights and freedoms figure in the Vietnamese constitution and in the laws that are below it” and “are respected in practice too.” In Vietnam, “no one is punished for expressing their opinions,” she claimed.
The legality of the activities of Hoang and the other jailed netizens is guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and articles 35, 50, 53 and 69 of Vietnam’s own constitution.
Vietnam is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Enemies of the Internet” that was released on 12 March and is ranked 165th out of 178 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.