HANOI — A court in Hanoi sentenced a prominent Vietnamese blogger to five years in prison for posting anti-state writings, in a one-day trial Wednesday that highlighted the Communist country’s tough approach to dissent.
Nguyen Huu Vinh, a former police officer and son of a late government minister, was convicted of abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state.
Vinh’s assistant, Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, was given three years in prison on the same charge. The two have been in prison since their arrests in May 2014.
Vinh, better known as Anh Ba Sam, quit the police force and set up a private investigation firm. He then launched the blog Dan Quyen, or Citizens’ Rights, in 2013, and Chep Su Viet, or Writing Vietnamese History, in early 2014. The blogs provided links to news on political, social, economic and cultural issues from state media as well as from activists.
Prosecutors said the two blogs posted 2,397 articles and generated more than 3.7 million hits, and that 24 of the articles had “untruthful and groundless contents” which tarnished the country’s image.
The two maintained their innocence at the trial.
Thuy told the court that she did not know who authored the writings or who posted them on the two blogs and that she did not commit any crime.
Their lawyers said there was no evidence against them.
Presiding Judge Nguyen Van Pho said the articles posted by the defendants “distort the lines and policies of the party and law of the state, vilify individuals.” He said the writings “present a one-sided and pessimistic view, causing anxiety and worry, and affecting the people’s confidence” in the party and government, and “go against the interests of the nation.”
Scores of Vinh’s supporters gathered outside the court chanting “innocent.”
Foreign media and diplomats were allowed to follow the proceedings via closed circuit TV in a separate room.
International human rights groups and Western governments including the United States have criticized Vietnam for jailing dissidents. Hanoi denies that, saying it only detains those who break the law.
US officials say Vietnam has made some progress in its human rights record with fewer arrests, but that more needs to be done if it wants to expand bilateral ties.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had called for the release of both defendants.