A detained Vietnamese shrimp farmer and environmental activist was sentenced to six years in prison and five years’ probation Wednesday for writing politically charged posts on Facebook.
Nguyen Ngoc Anh had been arrested on August 30, 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 according to Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code.
After the trial on Wednesday, Nguyen’s wife, Nguyen Thi Chau, told RFA’s Vietnamese service that her husband had been set up, and that he is not guilty.
“In general, for me and my husband, we have identified [our opinion that] it doesn’t matter whether [the sentence] is six years or 10 years, we know that we are not guilty, because this was a staged trial,” she said.
“This was a setup. All you do is just watch and listen to their propaganda,” she added.
Local Vietnamese media quoted the court’s indictment, which stated that between 2013 and 2014, Nguyen Ngoc Anh had created a Facebook account under his own name, with the original purpose of exchanging information related to aquaculture.
However, the court said, between April 2016 and August 2018, Nguyen continued to create a number of different Facebook accounts, participated in live broadcasts, posted many articles with distorting and defamatory content about the government and fabrications that caused confusion among the people regarding the state’s policies, laws and diplomatic relations.
The indictment also said that Nguyen created closed groups to share and discuss information about protests or to call for others to join in protest on Sept. 4, 2018 and April 30, 2019.
Regarding the charges brought before him, Nguyen’s wife said her husband acknowledged in court that he had broadcast 74 live videos about social and political issues, but he did not admit he was guilty of any of the government’s allegations.
“My husband admitted [to making] 74 live videos. He said that there are things he said while livestreaming that when he thinks about it now, were possibly fabrications, and he’s accepted his wrongdoing,” she said.
Regarding other statements he was accused to making, such as criticizing the government over its stewardship of the environment, she said, “He still stands by what he said [in the videos,] because for him, he’s just one voice of the people, a patriotic person. People have the right to speak up. That’s why he’s not guilty,” she said.
She added that her husband acknowledged that some videos of petitioners were valid evidence to bring against him in court, because some of the content was based on unconfirmed sources.
But Nguyen did not accept other allegations against him, such as an allegation that he was attempting to subvert Vietnam-China relations, related to a video in which Nguyen criticized the Vietnamese government for not daring to share the name of a Chinese vessel attacking Vietnamese fishing vessels in a disputed region of the South China Sea.
Nguyen’s wife also revealed to RFA that her husband had during the trial also been accused of plotting to overthrow the government for appearing in a video in which he hand-painted the flag of the now-defunct Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).
He also made a video clip about South Vietnam, saying that people want to restore the Republic and that everyone needed to be united.
One day before Wednesday’s trial, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling on the Vietnamese government to immediately release Mr. Nguyen Ngoc Anh and cancel all charges against him.
“The Vietnam government’s ongoing crackdown on critical voices now has Nguyen Ngoc Anh in its sight, subjecting him to a show trial and years of imprisonment to frighten others who might dare to question the government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Holding this trial just as the European Council is in the process of ratifying the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement shows how ruthless the government can be and demonstrates why human rights improvements need to be part of trade deals and not sidelined in the name of diplomacy.”
Meanwhile, the Vietnamese government is making new regulations on social media content.
The country’s Information and Communications Minister Nguyen Manh Hung told the National Assembly that the government plans to make specific requirements for internet service providers to filter information.
“We must define what is garbage. We must monitor, detect and declare that certain information is garbage,” he said.
He said the ministry has a national cybersecurity safety monitoring center that can analyze, evaluate and determine which information is fake and will inform the ministry, which can then take action to remove the information, even from foreign operators.
The minister said that since the monitoring center was up and running, Vietnam has been stronger in regulating foreign social networks, so in the past 10 months the content removal rate at the request of state agencies has increased by 500%.
The recent transparency report issued by Facebook noted that in the last six months of 2018, the amount of content on the social networking site that was restricted at the request of the government of Vietnam increased by 500%.
Reuters quoted a Facebook spokesman saying the increase was due to Vietnam's tightening of internet controls as a result of the entry into force of Vietnam's Network Security Law earlier this year.
Reported and Translated by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.