Facebook activist Nguyen Duc Hung’s family say he was denied visitors and they only found out about his five-and-a-half-year sentence from state media the day after it was handed down.
Hung’s posts aimed to raise awareness of an environmental disaster in his hometown of Ky Anh. The Hung Nghiep Formosa Ha Tinh steel factory discharged chemical waste into the sea and environmentalists say the effects are still being felt by the residents.
His social media posts did not focus solely on the disaster in his home town. He told his 9,000-plus followers about cases of social injustice and human rights abuses. He also focused on religious freedom, posting comments about the case of Thien An Monastery in which the provincial government of Thua Thien Hue “borrowed” land from the religious facility.
Hung was convicted of “conducting anti-state propaganda” under Article 117 of the criminal code.
The indictment said Hung’s actions directly affected the implementation of the Party’s guidelines and policies, the State’s laws, and the strength of the people’s government, divided national unity, reduced the people’s trust in the Party and State, and potentially caused national insecurity and disorder.
While the court claimed it was a public criminal trial Hung’s family said they heard nothing from the police or the court.
“When they carried out the trial, my family did not know,” Hung’s father Nguyen Van Sen told RFA.
“I phoned the detention center and was told that the trial had been carried out the day before. When I asked why they didn’t notify my family, the police said the family was not involved.”
Sen got the same response when the called the provincial police’s investigative department.
According to a lawyer who has defended many similar trials Hung’s case is not uncommon. Ha Huy Son said the court does not have to notify the family or invite them to the trial. He said Criminal Procedure Code 2015 only stipulates telling the family the person is in custody, or has been arrested in the case of an urgent arrest. It is only necessary to tell the defense lawyer, the victim and any other parties involved at least 10 days before the trial.
Hung is the sixth Facebooker this year to be convicted of “conducting propaganda against the state.” The others received sentences of between five and eight years.
Hung, 31, was arrested on Jan. 6 this year and has been held incommunicado since then. His father said, despite repeated trips to the detention center, the family was not allowed to see him.
The family did not hire a defense lawyer and Sen said he did not know if one was present at the trial. Sen did not want to comment on the sentence, other than saying he hoped it would be reduced because Hung’s wife had left him to raise their two primary school children.
State media did not mention whether Hung had a lawyer, only saying he had pleaded guilty and asked for leniency.
RFA called the People’s Court of Ha Tinh province but no-one replied
Communist Party paranoia
“Given the worsening situation for activists and human rights defenders in Vietnam, it was sadly just a matter of time before Nguyen Duc Hung got arrested,” said Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson.
“It’s become obvious that the Vietnam Communist Party is so paranoid about dissenting views that it considers mere writing of words online to be a threat to state security. By giving out a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence for just writing criticism of the government on Facebook, the government has committed an outrageous and unacceptable violation of Nguyen Duc Thung’s rights. In reality, he did nothing that would have been considered wrong, or even out of the ordinary, if he was in a democratic society, but of course he is stuck living under a single party dictatorship.”
Roberts said Vietnam’s crackdown on freedom of expression means no peaceful activist can spread his views via social media without facing what he called “bogus state security charges” and many years in prison.
“Quite clearly, Vietnam has become one of the worst rights abusing and dictatorial governments in Southeast Asia and now it wants to control the Internet as strictly as China. Any government donor or international business investor should think twice about investing in a country like Vietnam where freedom of expression and access to information is so strictly controlled,” Robertson said.