A court in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi on Friday upheld the 10-year sentence imposed earlier this year on an RFA blogger in what he has called a case of political persecution against him, rejecting his appeal and sending him back to prison to serve his full term, his lawyer told RFA.
Truong Duy Nhat, who had been a weekly contributor to RFA’s Vietnamese Service before his abduction in Thailand by police in January 2019, spoke during Friday’ hearing and disclosed new details of his arrest and how he was spirited from Thailand to Vietnam through Laos, the lawyer said.
Nhat, who had earlier been jailed in Vietnam from 2013 to 2015 for his writings criticizing Vietnam’s government, was convicted in March of “abusing his position and authority” in a decade-old land fraud case. On Friday he and his lawyer contested key details of the old business deal.
He was charged by police investigators in July 2019 with “abusing his position” during his 1998 to 2011 tenure as bureau chief of the Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity) newspaper in Danang City. He bought land for use as a headquarters for his newspaper, with a local businessman named Phan Van Anh Vu recruited by him to make the purchase.
The land was acquired at less than its proper value, prosecutors charged, with a loss to the state of its purchase estimated at VND 300 million in 2014, rising to over VND 13 billion (U.S. $560,000) at the time of the loss’s discovery on April 17, 2018, state media said in earlier reports.
Nhat’s supervisors at the newspaper, who ordered him to sign the deal, were never prosecuted, though, and were blamed for losses to the state valued at the lower amount, defense lawyer Dang Dinh Manh told RFA’s Vietnamese Service following Friday’s ruling on his client’s appeal.
“The losses were the same, but Nhat was accused of having caused losses given in 2018 values at over VND 13 billion, and was therefore charged with criminal responsibility and was sentenced to 10 years in jail,” Dang said, describing the sentence as “very harsh.”
“It is unreasonable not to uphold the regulation that everyone has the right to equal treatment under the law, and this is one of the points that I raised to the court and asked the state prosecutors to consider,” Dang said.
Taken to Vietnam through Laos
Dang added that Nhat declared at his trial that after seeking political asylum in Thailand at the beginning of 2019, he had been arrested by Thai Royal Police on January 26 and handed over to Vietnamese police, who then took him across the border into Laos, and from there back to Vietnam.
During the course of Nhat’s arrest and transfer, his mobile phone and U.S. $8,000 were taken from him, Dang added.
“Finally, the Vietnamese police brought him to the Mai Dich Ward in Hanoi on January 28, and then made a formal record of his arrest, two days after he had been taken into custody by police in Thailand,” he said.
Testifying at Nhat’s appeal trial, Phan Van Anh Vu, who had helped Nhat purchase the property for his newspaper, asserted Nhat’s innocence of the charges for which he was convicted, adding that Nhat had acted only on behalf of his employers, defense lawyer Ngo Anh Tuan told RFA following the trial.
Nhat had also asked that the presiding judge and investigators from his earlier trial be summoned to explain the discrepancy in the charges and clarify how the relevant laws were applied, but the judges considering his appeal turned down the request, Dang said.
‘Others will raise their voices’
Writing on her Facebook page before the appeal trial, Nhat’s daughter Truong Thuc Doan said that she and her mother had been barred by authorities from attending the appeal trial because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“But I know that my father will not feel alone at all!” she wrote.
“No matter how many years it takes, I will still wait for you. The Vietnamese authorities may imprison you, journalist Truong Duy Nhat, but thousands of other journalists of conscience will continue to raise their voices.”
“The authorities may suffocate critical voices today, but future generations will continue to struggle for their ideals,” she wrote.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent has deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists and publishers, as well as Facebook personalities. And activists say things are likely to get worse as authorities 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.