HANOI — A Vietnamese activist received a 15-month suspended prison sentence Tuesday for “abusing democratic freedoms” through his Facebook posts — part of an escalating crackdown on dissent by the communist regime.
Dinh Nhat Uy, 30, was convicted at the end of a one-day trial in the southern province of Long An on charges related to an Internet campaign against his brother’s imprisonment for spreading anti-government propaganda, his lawyer said.
Uy’s case was apparently the first time a Vietnamese activist has gone on trial only for comments made on social media.
In Vietnam, convicts serving suspended sentences are effectively placed under house arrest, with severe restrictions on their movements and a requirement to check in regularly with police.
“Uy was given a 15 month suspended sentence,” his lawyer Ha Huy Son told AFP, adding that he would have to serve an additional year of house arrest after completing his probation.
“I told the court that Uy was innocent, that the charges against him were not objective,” he said, adding that he had called for Uy’s immediate release.
“He is the victim of an injustice,” he added.
Uy was sentenced for violations of article 258 of the penal code, which covers “abusing democratic freedoms against the interests of the state”.
The charges, regularly used by authoritarian Vietnam to silence dissidents and activists, carry a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
A handful of supporters, wearing printed t-shirts and waving signs calling for his release, gathered near the Long An court but were met with a heavy security presence, photos posted online showed.
Vietnam, branded an “enemy of the Internet” by Reporters Without Borders, is a one-party state that bans private media and controls all newspapers and television channels.
According to Uy’s indictment — a copy of which was posted online on the banned but popular blog Dan Lam Bao — he was charged solely for Facebook postings. Usually charges for dissidents and activists relate to blog postings.
In June Uy’s brother Dinh Nguyen Kha, a computer technician, was sentenced to eight years in prison — reduced to four years on appeal — for anti-government propaganda.
His co-defendant, Nguyen Phuong Uyen, was sentenced to six years in jail but freed on appeal after widespread public disapproval over the harsh sentence for the 21-year-old, who was shown hugging a teddy bear in photographs posted online.
After his brother’s trial Uy began campaigning online for his release.
The indictment said Uy “posted bad and false information about the state, organizations and individuals.”
“Those above-mentioned images and articles were seen and read by many people. Many people shared, pressed ‘like’, and gave comments, of which many comments smeared and insulted the state, organizations and citizens,” it added.
New York-based Human Rights Watch — which had called for Uy’s immediate release — noted that at least 61 activists and dissidents have been jailed this year — up from roughly 40 in 2012.
“Vietnam has significantly intensified its repressive tactics against peaceful activists, pursuing what is essentially a scorched earth policy against prominent public dissidents,” HRW’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.
Vietnam recently introduced a sweeping new Internet law that bans bloggers and social media users from sharing news stories online, in a move seen as a further crackdown on online freedom.
However, Uy has not been charged under the new legislation and it remains unclear how it will be implemented.