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Vietnam rejects ‘anti-government’ blogger’s appeal

September 22, 2016

A Hanoi court upheld the five-year sentence of an anti-government blogger Thursday, his lawyer said, as rights groups accused authoritarian Vietnam of crushing dissent.

Nguyen Huu Vinh, more commonly known as Anh Ba Sam, was arrested in 2014 and accused of disseminating anti-government articles on his wildly popular website.

Vinh, a 60-year-old former policeman, was convicted in March on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms” along with his assistant Thi Minh Thuy who was given three years in jail. The crime carries a maximum penalty of seven years.

“This is a totally imposed verdict, it isn’t based on any proof,” said his lawyer Ha Huy Son after the day-long appeal hearing.

There was a heavy police presence around the Higher People’s Court, with surrounding streets cordoned off and plainclothes and uniformed officers manning roadblocks as the hearing got under way.

Vinh, who appeared in court alongside Thuy, was sentenced under article 258 of the criminal code, which rights groups have condemned for being vaguely worded and used to silence dissidents.

Vinh’s site Ba Sam, which means “talking nonsense” in Vietnamese, attracted 3.7 million page views before it was taken down shortly after his arrest.

He founded the website in 2007, initially to store articles for his own reference, but the site later became a news aggregator with links to stories from state-run newspapers and also posts from activists.

All newspapers and television channels are state-run in Vietnam and private media is banned.

But blog sites and social media forums have become an increasingly popular arena for citizens to air anti-government grievances.

Bloggers, activists and lawyers are routinely subject to arbitrary detention and arrest.

Human Rights Watch said ahead of the appeal hearing that the conviction was politically motivated and accused Vietnam of jailing “courageous bloggers”.

“Given how angry the authorities are at these two dissident bloggers for exposing the government’s abuses and ridiculing their policies, there was really never any hope that their sentences would be reduced,” HRW Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said Thursday.

Vietnam ranks 175 out of 180 on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index.

On Tuesday, land rights activist Can Thi Theu was jailed for 20 months after accusing the government of snatching plots for developers, her second conviction since 2014.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.