January 7, 2013 | By Eva Galperin

Free Expression in Danger as Bloggers and Activists Go On Trial in Vietnam

UPDATE 1/10/13: After a two-day trial, a court in the city of Vinh convicted all 14 of the defendants that appeared in court. Thirteen of the activists and bloggers were sentenced to serve prison terms ranging individually from 3 to 13 years. One [Nguyen Dang Vinh Phuc] was given a three-year conditionally suspended sentence, making him easily vulnerable to re-arrest. EFF condemns these harsh sentences and calls for the immediate release of the imprisoned activists.

In Vietnam, 17 bloggers and activists will stand trial tomorrow. This trial will be the largest of its kind in Vietnam--14 of the defendants will appear at once. They have been charged under Article 79 (“activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s government”) of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The allegations include: attending workshops on digital security; writing and linking to blog posts that are critical of the Communist Vietnamese government; calling for peaceful protests and political pluralism; and association with the Vietnam Reform Party (Viet Tan). If convicted, the defendants could face sentences ranging from five years in prison to capital punishment. Three of the accused activists--Nguyen Xuan Kim, Thai Van Tu, and Le Sy--have fled the country and the Ministry of Public Security has issued a warrant for their arrest.

2012 was a year of crackdowns on free expression in Vietnam, including the introduction of new censorship laws. But just as important as the new regulations was the ongoing harassment, intimidation, and detainment of bloggers who had spoken out against the Communist regime. Dozens of social activists were arrested, some of whom received harsh prison sentences, and many of whom have been detained for over a year without trail. In the summer, the mother of imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Ta Phong Tan died after setting herself on fire to protest her daughter's detention on charges spreading anti-state propaganda. Ta Phong Tan, a former police officer who documented social injustice on her blog Conglysuthat (Vietnamese for "Justice and Truth"), had been arrested in the previous year.

In August, EFF joined with 11 concerned organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Index on Censorship, in signing a joint letter addressed to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung requesting the immediate release of more than a dozen social activists and bloggers. The letter criticized Article 79 for effectively restricting freedom of association and declared that "freedom of association, freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial are basic rights which should be protected under Vietnam’s legal system and not unjustifiably curtailed."

For the 17 men and woman who will go on trial tomorrow, the new year may prove to be even more dangerous than the last. EFF continues to call for the immediate release of the 14 activists in custody (Ho Duc Hoa, Dang Xuan Dieu, Nguyen Van Oai, Nguyen Van Duyet, Nguyen Xuan Anh, Dang Ngoc Minh, Nguyen Dang Minh Man, Nguyen Dang Vinh Phuc, Nong Hung Anh, Le Van Son, Ho Van Oanh, Thai Van Dung, Tran Minh Nhat, and Nguyen Dinh Cuong) and requests that the Ministry of Public Security retract the warrant against Nguyen Xuan Kim, Thai Van Tu, and Le Sy. Vietnamese citizens deserve a government that respects their fundamental human rights to freedom of expression and association. No one should face possible imprisonment or death for criticizing the government in a blog post or learning how to protect their privacy and security online.

EFF will be keeping a close eye on the upcoming trial.


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