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Facebook page administrator sentenced to 8 years for ‘anti-state’ posts

Vietnam has sentenced another administrator of the popular “Diary of Patriots” Facebook page to eight years for posting content that criticized the government, a verdict that his family felt was not constitutional, they told Radio Free Asia.

In addition to the eight years, Phan Tat Thanh must serve three years probation during which he would be under the supervision of authorities. The sentence is identical to that of the other administrator of the page, Nguyen Van Lam which the court handed down in March.

The “Diary of Patriots” is a democracy advocacy page with 800,000 followers, and both administrators were found to have violated Article 117 of Vietnam’s penal code that prohibits “anti-state propaganda.”

Rights groups say the law has been written to be intentionally vague so that it can be used as a tool by Hanoi to stifle dissent.

Thanh’s father Phan Tat Chi, who was present at the trial, strongly disagreed with the verdict, which exceeds the five to seven years recommended by prosecutors.

“Such an unfair and unreasonable verdict,” he said. “Today’s trial and verdict trampled on the Constitution and suppressed ordinary people.”

He said that his son’s actions fall under Article 25 of the constitution which provides that Vietnamese citizens have the right to freedom of speech, press freedom, access to information, and freedom of assembly, association and demonstration.

Multiple profiles

According to the indictment, the Ministry of Public Security’s Department of Cyber Security and High-tech Crime Prevention discovered that the private Facebook account “Chu Tuấn” and Facebook page ‘‘Văn Toàn’’ had posted, shared and live-streamed illegal content.

The agency reported it to the Security Investigation Agency of Ho Chi Minh City Police for their handling in accordance with the law.
In mid-April 2023, authorities discovered that Phan Tat Thanh had been managing the ‘‘Văn Toàn’’ Facebook page with several different profiles, ‘‘Black Aaron,’’ ‘‘Chu Tuấn,’’ ‘‘Huỳnh Heo,’’ and ‘‘Mít Huỳnh.’’

They found that he had posted seven stories and images that were problematic because they criticized the draft law on Special Economic Zones, characterized the government as a totalitarian regime, and criticized many of its socio-economic policies. The posts also called for civil disobedience.

Thanh allegedly shared the Facebook accounts with a user having a Facebook profile named “Thao Nguyen” to create and post false stories with content defaming government officers’ honor and dignity. Authorities notably were not able to identify who had been operating that profile.

According to Thanh’s father, during the trial, Thanh and his defense attorneys Tran Dinh Dung and Nguyen Minh Canh, all affirmed that despite creating the Facebook profiles, he had not used them nor posted the stories. It was “Thao Nguyen” who used the profiles and posted the stories, they said.
Additionally, the page was still active during the time Thanh was in custody with several new posts appearing during this time.

Beaten and tortured

However, the presiding judge, Bui Duc Nam, did not accept the argument that Thanh was not behind the offending posts.

In the trial, Thanh also said that he had been beaten, tortured and forced to give testimonies by investigators during custody and detention periods.
According to Thanh’s father, when he was allowed to say his final words at the trial, Thanh still pleaded innocent, attributing the investigation results to coerced statements. However, the Presiding judge stopped him, saying “This [the trial] is not a forum [for you] to say whatever you want to say.”

In a media release issued one day before the trial, Ms. Patricia Gossman, Deputy Director of the Human Rights Watch’s Asian Division, said that the government of Vietnam tries to claim that it does not have any political prisoners, and that it only imprisons those who violate the law.

“What Vietnamese leaders refuse to acknowledge is that article 117 of the penal code is a clear violation of freedom of expression, one of the most basic rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which Vietnam has ratified,” she said.

“Vietnam should repeal its rights-abusing laws instead of punishing its citizens for speaking their minds and expressing their views.”

Translated by Anna Vu. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.