Crackdown Continues with Harsh Supreme Court Ruling, More Arrests
By An Hai - VOA
April 22, 2020
WASHINGTON - An appeals court in
Vietnam has upheld a lower court decision to sentence a music teacher to 11
years in prison for criticizing the government on Facebook.
Nguyen Nang Tinh, 45, was found
guilty of "making and spreading anti-state information and materials" in a
one-day trial at the People's Court in the north central province of Nghe An in
On Tuesday, the Council of Justices
of the Supreme People’s Court upheld that decision at a final appeals
The decision comes amid increased
pressure on Facebook to comply with Vietnam’s censorship demands and a spate of
similar charges filed against people who used the platform to criticize Hanoi’s
pandemic response online.
With limited space for independent
journalism, many bloggers and journalists use Facebook and social media to
report on important issues. In January, the government accused Facebook of
violating the law by allowing users to post anti-government comments.
Facebook’s local servers in Vietnam
were then taken offline until the U.S.-based company agreed to substantially
increase the censorship of “anti-state” posts for local users, as
Reuters reported Tuesday.
In an emailed statement, Facebook
confirmed it had reluctantly complied with the government’s request to “restrict
access to content which it has deemed to be illegal.”
In its 2020 annual World Press Freedom Index, Paris-based Reporters
Without Borders (RSF) said bloggers are a primary source of
independently reported information.
"The level of terror has risen
sharply in the past three years, with many bloggers being jailed or expelled in
connection with their posts," said RSF, which added that a 2019 cybercrime law
requires foreign online platforms to locally store Vietnamese user data and
surrender it to authorities on demand.
Tinh, who teaches music at a
provincial college, has said the Facebook account does not belong to him and
that officials are confusing him with an account that happens to bear his name.
"The prosecutors stuck to the idea
that the Facebook user named Nguyen Nang Tinh and my client Nguyen Nang Tinh are
the same person," Tinh's lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng told
Reuters in November.
Police arrested Tinh in May 2019,
when they claim he was found writing and posting anti-state messages and videos
on Facebook, which is widely used in Vietnam and serves as the main platform for
e-commerce and dissent.
According to Radio Free Asia, a
sister agency of VOA, Tinh had been on a hunger strike since March 13 and was
not allowed to pray, read religious books or meet with Catholic priests. Tinh
ended the strike on April 17, when he was notified that he would be granted the
appeals hearing, according to Dang Dinh Manh, one of his defense attorneys
during the appeals hearing.
Manh said his client now plans to
resume the hunger strike.
Speaking with VOA's Vietnamese
Service, Tinh's father, Nguyen Ngoc Dinh, praised his son's defense team for
making "concretely demonstrated and convincing arguments."
During the trials, he said, his son
repeatedly admitted to using a Facebook account to share stories, but only ones
that were "beneficial to the country, not meant to oppose."
"He has no partisan ideology or
opposition to any party," he said.
On Tuesday, Tinh's wife, who could
not attend the hearing because of coronavirus quarantine rules, posted a
statement on Facebook expressing strong condemnation of "the Hanoi high court in
Nghe An and the detention camp for unfair treatment and wrongful conviction of
Her post echoed a broader censure of
the ruling, in which numerous democracy advocates called for Tinh's immediate
"Teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh, a man for
patriotism and national destiny, has received an unjust judgment," said
dissident musician Tran Vu Anh Binh of Ho Chi Minh City via YouTube.
Tinh will be placed under house
arrest for five years after serving his jail term, his lawyer said.
Two other Vietnamese nationals, both
women, have been arrested on similar charges since April 10.
Police in Ninh Kieu District, Can
Tho City, arrested Ma Phung Ngoc Phu, 28, on charges of "abusing democratic
freedoms" under Article 331 of the Penal Code.
According to domestic media, Phu
posted purportedly false articles about the coronavirus outbreak on Facebook.
Online newspaper Dan tri reported that
Phu allegedly created a Facebook account under the alias "James Ng" to write
and share articles criticizing the government and its senior leadership.
The paper also reported that
Facebook account was removed immediately after her arrest.
Activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, 38, was
arrested Saturday for "conducting propaganda against the state" under Article
117 of the Criminal Code.
According to local television news
stations, police ransacked Thuy's home during the arrest, which stems from her
alleged management of "many" Facebook accounts that were used to distribute
information criticizing the government and its leaders.
“Ms. Thuy participated in protests
against two bills of the Special Economic Zone and Cyber Security in Saigon on
June 10, 2018," according to Human Rights Defender, a journal run by Australia's
University of New South Wales Human Rights Institute.
"At that time of her arrest, [she
was] beaten and interrogated and eventually fined," they reported. "In recent
years, she has been repeatedly harassed by local police for her Facebook
Police in Vietnam did not respond to
requests for comment about allegations of violence in time for publication.
In October, a 54-year-old architect
was jailed for 12 months over accusations that he uploaded anti-state posts to
his Facebook account, according to police records.
In its 2020 annual World Press
Freedom Index, RSF ranks Vietnam 175 out of 180 countries, in which one is
considered the freest. The reports say some 25 journalists and bloggers are
currently held in Vietnam’s jails, where mistreatment is common.
This story originated in VOA's Vietnamese Service
( https://www.voatiengviet.com/ ). Pete Cobus contributed reporting. Some
information is from Reuters.