A court in central Vietnam’s Nghe An province on Tuesday sentenced a dissident poet and blogger to 12 years in prison on a charge of subversion–activities his lawyer said were merely an exercise of his client’s freedom of speech.
Tran Duc Thach, a co-founder of Vietnam’s online Brotherhood for Democracy, was arrested on April 23, 2020 and charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the People’s Government” under Article 109 of Vietnam’s Criminal Code for Facebook postings exposing government corruption and human rights abuses.
The Brotherhood for Democracy is not recognized by the Vietnamese government, and many of its members have been imprisoned since its founding in 2013.
Tran will serve a further three years’ probation when his 12-year sentence has ended, according to the sentence imposed by the Nghe An People’s Court
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service following Tuesday’s trial, Tran’s lawyer Ha Huy Son said his client had been sentenced unjustly.
“In my opinion, the prosecution of this case was aimed only at preventing political pluralism and multiparty ideologies [in Vietnam], because Tran’s behavior was not dangerous and did not contradict the Constitution,” Ha said.
“Tran Duc Thach admitted to the activities that were described in the indictment, but said they were not done with the aim of overthrowing the government. Rather, he had only wanted to help build a better society according to his own understanding,” he said.
Judge Tran Ngoc Son of the People’s Court had not allowed Tran’s defense team to copy case documents used at trial, hampering his client’s defense, Ha said. The court showed no regard for Tran’s wartime service when considering his sentence, claiming there were no documents in the case file to support his claim.
Served during Vietnam War
Born in 1952 in Nghe An, Tran served with North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War and was afterward an activist for human rights and democracy in Vietnam for many years.
In his book A Haunting Collective Grave, Tran tells the story of how North Vietnamese soldiers killed hundreds of innocents at Tan Lap commune in Dong Nai province’s Xuan Loc district during the final campaign of the war that ended with communist forces’ victory on April 30, 1975.
Tran was earlier sentenced to three years in jail in October 2009 for “conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” along with fellow dissidents Vu Van Hung and Pham Van Troi.
Quoting Nghe An provincial prosecutors, Vietnamese state media said this week that Tran’s writings and activities had “threatened social stability, encroached upon national independence and socialism, reduced people’s trust in the political institution of the state of Vietnam, and infringed upon national security and social safety and order.”
Rights group slams sentence
In a Dec. 15 statement, Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson, slammed the sentence imposed on Tran by the Nghe An court, saying he should instead be honored for his commitment to reform in the one-party communist state.
“As a veteran of the People’s Liberation Army of Vietnam, Tran Duc Thach spent his youth fighting for the cause of the very same government that now imprisons him for speaking his mind and exercising his rights,” Robertson said.
“When is Vietnam going to realize that citizens like Tran Duc Thach should be honored for their commitment to reform and rights, not persecuted for pointing out shortcomings in government and society?”
“International donors and trade partners of Vietnam should end their silence on Vietnam’s human rights abuses, and demand an end to the crackdown on those exercising their rights,” Robertson said.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. About 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.