Fri, Apr 13, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Vietnam courts jail two more activists

SUPPRESSING DISSENT?Rights groups said Facebook’s automated regulation of content creates an avenue to ‘silence human rights activists and citizen journalists’

Reuters, HANOI

Activist Tran Thi Xuan, second right, is escorted into a courtroom in Vietnam’s Ha Tinh Province yesterday.

Photo: AP

Courts in Vietnam yesterday handed prison sentences to two activists, as the communist government widens its crackdown on dissent.

A court in Nghe An Province sentenced 32-year-old Nguyen Viet Dung to seven years in prison for posting “anti-state propaganda” on Facebook, police said after a trial that lasted a few hours.

Despite sweeping economic and social reforms in Vietnam, the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate criticism. It has been stepping up sentencing and arrests of activists, and handing them longer jail terms.

Dung was charged with posting information on Facebook last year that distorted the policies of the party and the state and defamed state leaders, the police said, citing the indictment.

Dung, who was jailed for a year in 2015 for causing public disorder, is also to face five years of house arrest after serving his latest prison term, police said.

“These trumped up charges, used to attack peaceful activists like Nguyen Viet Dung and many other dissidents before him, show just how easy it is for the government to harass, detain, prosecute and imprison any person,” New York-based Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.

Vietnam should heed calls from the UN and foreign diplomats demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Dung, he said.

Separately, a court in the nearby province of Ha Tinh yesterday jailed Tran Thi Xuan for nine years after she was convicted of “attempting to overthrow the people’s administration,” police in the province said.

Police said Xuan was a member of a group called the Brotherhood for Democracy, whose other members were jailed at other trials this month.

Lawyers for Dung and Xuan could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Their trials followed heavy sentences for at least seven other activists convicted of attempting to overthrow the people’s administration.

This month, a Hanoi court sentenced human rights lawyer and activist Nguyen Van Dai to 15 years in prison on the grounds that he “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

Five other activists affiliated with Brotherhood for Democracy were jailed for seven to 12 years.

On Tuesday, a court in the northern province of Thai Binh handed a 13-year prison sentence to another activist, Nguyen Van Tuc, accused of the same charges.

Vietnamese human rights activists and independent media groups wrote this week to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, questioning whether the social media platform was helping suppress dissent in Vietnam.

The letter, released on Tuesday by US-based human rights group Viet Tan and signed by nearly 50 other groups, said Facebook’s system of automatically pulling content if enough people complained could “silence human rights activists and citizen journalists in Vietnam.”

Facebook said its community standard in Vietnam was in line with that elsewhere.

“There are also times when we may have to remove or restrict access to content, because it violates a law in a particular country, even though it doesn’t violate our community standards,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in a statement.

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