A court in southern Vietnam on Friday rejected the appeals of three jailed bloggers convicted on charges of public disorder, prompting a prominent human rights group to denounce the handling of the case by the authoritarian government.
The three bloggers—Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Van Minh, and Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh—were sentenced in August to up to three years in jail on what rights activists called phony and politically motivated charges after a one-day trial in Dong Thap in the Mekong Delta region.
The hearing on Friday was to consider their appeal against the sentences they received.
“In political cases like this, nothing in the courts is even remotely independent of the ruling Vietnam Communist Party,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“What happens has been dictated in advance, so these appeals cases are best understood as a second sentencing hearing and a judgment by the authorities on how cooperative the activists have been in prison so far."
The trio originally was accused by the government of causing public disorder by creating a “serious obstruction to traffic” while they were on their way to visit a former political prisoner in February.
The People’s Court of Dong Thap province had ordered 50-year-old Hang to be imprisoned for three years, while fellow blogger Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, 28, received a two-year sentence, and Nguyen Van Minh, 34, a Hao Hao Buddhist sect follower, got a two-and-a-half-year term.
Defense lawyer Tran Thu Nam told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that the appeals court upheld the sentences, although the defendants had not admitted to the crimes with which they had been charged.
“People even agreed that none of the defendants had committed any crimes, but the appeals court still upheld their sentences,” he said.
Quynh Anh, Hang’s daughter, told RFA that she was not allowed to attend the hearing.
“This morning, I was with the group of lawyers and others who went to the court, but we were not allowed to enter, except for the lawyers.”
She said blogger Huynh Cong Thuan had accompanied her to the courthouse, but was beaten by an unknown group of people and taken to the police station.
Dissident rights lawyer and former political prisoner Nguyen Bac Truyen told RFA that police had been stationed outside his home in Ho Chi Minh City for the last two days in the run-up to the appeals hearing, and he was not allowed to leave the premises.
“This is all part of a government strategy to hit rights activists with charges that talk about maintaining order rather than criminalizing exercise of rights—but the effect is exactly the same, throwing people in prison for daring to demand transparent, democratic governance and respect for rights."
Reporters Without Borders says Vietnam is currently holding 34 bloggers in detention.
Although Vietnam is a member of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, it has been criticized by international human rights groups for harassing and jailing bloggers and government critics as well as repressing religion freedom.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Khanh Nguyen. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.