A court in southern Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City is set on Thursday to hear the appeal of jailed environmental activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh, who is challenging a six-year prison term imposed in June for criticizing the government on Facebook, according to Human Rights Watch.
Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, was arrested in August 2018 in Ben Tre province on charges of “making, storing, spreading, and declaring transmitted information and documents to combat the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code.
“Nguyen Ngoc Anh is among a rapidly increasing group of political dissenters locked up for expressing opinions on Facebook,” HRW Asia advocacy director John Sifton said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Vietnam’s government seems to think that using the platform for its intended purpose is a crime,” Sifton said.
Writings by Anh described by authorities as slandering Vietnam’s one-party communist government and state included criticisms of the government’s handling of environmental damage resulting from a massive toxic waste spill in 2016 that left thousands without work in three coastal provinces.
Anh had also voiced concerns for the welfare of political prisoners held in Vietnam’s jails, HRW said, calling for the reversal of Anh’s conviction and sentence and for his immediate release.
Speaking to RFA in September, Anh’s wife Nguyen Thi Chau described efforts by prison authorities in Ben Tre province’s Binh Phu Detention Center to force Anh to drop his appeal, saying he had been threatened with death and subjected to abuse by a cellmate, with abuse growing more severe as he continued to resist.
Anh was later placed in solitary confinement after being beaten unconscious and refused treatment for his injuries, Chau told RFA in October.
Another blogger detained and charged
Meanwhile, Hoa Binh provincial authorities on Nov. 5 arrested Facebook user Nguyen Van Nghiem on charges under Article 117 for livestreaming material deemed to have “defamed the people’s government,” sources said.
Nghiem, also known by his online name Dr. Haircut, was taken into custody after police forced their way into his home, Nghiem’s wife Pham Thi Xuan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service by phone on Wednesday.
“Yesterday, after I came home from the market, I saw a woman dressed in civilian clothes standing in front of my house,” Xuan said. “She asked me if I would help her fix her hair, but I refused, saying that my husband was busy livestreaming and I didn’t want to disturb his work.”
After she was persuaded to open the door, police officers burst into the house and seized Nghiem, restraining him and logging onto his computer to access data for use as evidence against him, Xuan said.
Documents confiscated by police included criticisms of corrupt officials, “civil servants who are fed by the people but fail to serve the nation,” Xuan said, adding that she had asked Nghiem not to be harsh in his tone so as not to anger “those who were doing bad things.”
“His video clips seemed normal to me, though some were a little bit critical,” she said.
Calls seeking comment from the Investigation Office of the Hoa Binh provincial police rang unanswered on Wednesday.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of which 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.