An appellate court in Vietnam upheld the 11-year jail sentence imposed on a music teacher who was found to have posted online criticisms against the communist government on Facebook.
The Council of Judges of the People’s Court in north-central Vietnam’s Nghe An province on April 20 upheld the sentence plus five years of probation with restricted movement on teacher Nguyen Nang Tinh, reported RFA.
The court said Nguyen posted on his social media account protests against Vietnam’s law on special economic zones that many Vietnamese fear will favor Chinese investment in the country.
He also posted reports on demonstrations against a Taiwanese company that dumped toxic waste into the ocean that caused environmental disaster off the country’s central coast.
Nguyen, a teacher at a provincial arts and cultural college, was arrested in May 2019. He had been on a hunger strike in prison from March 13 until April 17.
The RFA report said Nguyen was not allowed to pray, read religious books, and meet with Catholic priests during this time.
Before his arrest, the music teacher was an active supporter of the Vinh Human Development Fund, a Catholic charity that raises money to help the poor.
Dang Dinh Manh, Nguyen’s counsel, said the teacher admitted to using Facebook accounts to share stories “but affirmed that those stories were not aimed at opposing Vietnam’s government.”
The presiding judge, however, said the sentence serves as a warning to those who want to capitalize on the rights to democracy and freedom by opposing the state, contradicting achievements in Vietnam’s progress with reform.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has earlier called on Vietnamese authorities to drop all charges against Nguyen and called for his release.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of the human rights body, said the Vietnamese government is “abusing its penal code to lock up citizens for doing nothing more than exercising their basic right.”
Trials of activists and critics for Facebook comments have become a regular feature in Vietnam.
In June last year, environmental activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh was put on trial for Facebook posts criticizing the government.
In late September, another dissident, Nguyen Quoc Duc Vuong, was arrested for Facebook posts criticizing the government and the Communist Party.
On April 18, Vietnamese police arrested another social media user, Dinh Thi Thu Thuy, on charges of “smearing leaders,” state media reported.
Dinh has been charged under Section 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code for allegedly making and spreading anti-state information and materials.
“Facebook’s users in Vietnam are being jailed simply for using the platform as it was intended: to communicate information and opinions to other users,” said HRW’s Sifton.