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Vietnamese journalist gets 3 1/2 years for online criticism

A court in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City Tuesday sentenced a journalist to three years and six months in jail for criticizing how authorities handled a corruption case he uncovered as a reporter.

While working for the Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper in 2018, Nguyen Hoai Nam submitted evidence of wrongdoing among employees of the Vietnam Internal Waterways Agency to the Investigation Department of the Ministry of Public Security.

Authorities used the evidence to charge and sentence three employees at the agency for “abusing their positions of power while performing public duties.”

But 14 others identified in evidence as having been involved in bribery went unpunished.

Nam wrote on Facebook that the authorities’ handling of the case was insufficient and that investigators were trying to “cover it up and allow the defendants to slip away.”

On April 2, 2021, Ho Chi Minh City Police arrested Nam on charges of “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe on the legal interests of the state, organizations and individuals,” a violation under Article 331 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.

He was found guilty in Tuesday’s trial. The court concluded that Nam’s posts also violated anti-defamation laws.

International human rights organizations have said Article 331 and other vaguely written and arbitrarily applied laws are tools for the government to silence dissenting voices and restrict freedom of speech.

In January 2022, civil society groups in Vietnam composed a joint petition, calling for the removal of three sections of the country’s criminal code, including 331, because they are often used arbitrarily to crack down on political dissidents.

Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Eugene Whong.