A prominent Vietnamese blogger and his assistant were sentenced to prison last week in Hanoi for their work on a popular web site, read by millions of Vietnamese, that reported on human rights and government corruption. The case raises alarms of a new wave of repression against independent media and free expression online in Vietnam.
On March 23 a Hanoi court sentenced Nguyen Huu Vinh, a former police officer and the son of Vietnam’s ambassador to the former Soviet Union, to five years in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the state.” Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, Vinh’s assistant, was sentenced to three years. Vinh, better known as Anh Ba Sam, set up a popular blog in 2007 and later launched two others. The sites provided news and comments about democracy, social and economic issues from state media and activists, and articles critical of Vietnamese government policies. One site, AhnBasam, was repeatedly attacked by hackers in 2013 and 2014; Vinh and Thuy were arrested in May 2014 in Hanoi and indicted on charges that articles posted on the sites had "untruthful" content and "distort the lines and policies" of the ruling Community Party.
EFF strongly condemns the sentences, which follow an international outcry from human rights organizations over a series of crackdowns against and imprisonment of activists and bloggers. Seventeen people were tried in 2013 under Article 79 (which outlaws "activities aimed at overthrowing the people's government") for allegedly attending workshops on digital security, writing and linking to blog posts critical of the Communist Vietnamese government, and calling for peaceful protests and political pluralism. Fourteen of those tried were convicted and most sentences to prison terms ranging from 3 to 13 years.
Vietnam has harassed, intimidated, and detained bloggers who have spoken out against the Communist regime. Bloggers have been under extreme surveillance. Organizations, journalists, and others who have written about them—including EFF—have been targeted by malware from what appears to be state-aligned actors in Vietnam.
EFF and other organizations have called on Vietnam to end the repression of bloggers and activists, criticized the republic's Internet censorship bill, and supported campaigns to free high-profile bloggers Le Quoc Quan and Dieu Cay (both have been released). While Vietnam's National Assembly adopted amendments to the republic's criminal statutes in November, lawmakers failed to repeal many amendments used to suppress the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The arrest and imprisonment of Vinh and Thuy are disturbing reminders that freedom of expression and digital rights remain under serious threat in Vietnam.