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Vietnam court sentences music teacher to 8 years in prison

A court in Vietnam’s Dak Lak province has sentenced music lecturer Dang Dang Phuoc to eight years in prison and four years of probation for allegedly “conducting anti-state propaganda,” his wife and one of his lawyers told RFA Tuesday.

The 60-year-old instructor at Dak Lak Pedagogical College in Vietnam’s Central Highland, frequently posted on Facebook about educational issues, human rights violations, corrupt officials and social injustice.

Police arrested him on Sept. 8 last year, and charged him with “making, storing, spreading or propagating information, documents and items aimed at opposing the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” which carries a maximum 12-year prison term. Even though Phuoc didn’t receive the maximum sentence, lawyer Le Van Luan said the court should have been more lenient towards his client.

“With the circumstances of the case, that sentence is too heavy compared to what Mr. Phuoc did,” he said.

Phuoc’s case has drawn international attention, including from Human Rights Watch, who’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson described the sentence as “outrageous and unacceptable.”

“What it reveals is the Vietnamese government’s total intolerance for ordinary citizens pointing out corruption, speaking out against injustice, and calling for accountability by local officials,” he said on hearing the verdict. 

“Those were precisely the things that Dang Dang Phuoc did in Dak Lak, and now the government claims such whistle-blowing actions are propaganda against the state.”

During the past decade, Phuoc has campaigned against corruption and advocated for better protections for civil and political rights. He has signed several pro-democracy petitions and called for changes to Vietnam’s constitution, which grants the Communist Party a monopoly on power.

“This unjust prison sentence reveals General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong’s anti-corruption campaign is a sham game that is really more about holding on to power, and marginalizing political rivals, but does not care to address the Communist Party of Vietnam’s widespread malfeasance in its ranks,” said Robertson, comparing Trong with China’s authoritarian leader Xi Jinping.

Police kept a close watch on Phuoc’s wife Le Thi Ha ahead of the trial, warning her she would lose her job if she talked about the case on social media.

She was allowed to attend the trial, along with Phuoc’s four lawyers.

Ha told RFA her husband plans to appeal the verdict.

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Mike Firn.