A Vietnamese court Tuesday sentenced 57-year-old Nguyen Van Nghiem, known online as “Dr. Haircut,” to six years in prison Tuesday for live-streaming material critical of the government, after the defendant opted to forego lawyers and represent himself during the trial.
Authorities in Hoa Binh province arrested Nguyen on Nov. 5, 2019 on charges of “making, storing, distributing or disseminating information, documents and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” in violation of Article 117 of the Vietnamese penal code.
Dr. Haircut’s wife Pham Thi Xuan told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Tuesday that her husband, a hairdresser by trade, refused legal counsel during the trial at the Hoa Binh People’s Court.
“My husband refused to hire a lawyer. He just told me he would leave the family several years. Therefore the children and I must take care of ourselves,“ she said.
According to the indictment, Nguyen had, since 2011, created and managed many different Facebook accounts, including “Nghiem Nguyen,” “Dr. Haircut,” “Professor Hairdresser,” and “Muong Bi High School Student,” with the aim of sharing stories and videos that cast a negative light on the country’s political situation and societal issues.
The international community is not doing enough to prevent Vietnam from handing down such harsh sentences for sharing political opinions, according Le Van Dung, an activist known better by his nickname Le Dung VoVa.
“I want to appeal to the United Nations,” said Le Dung VoVa.
“The sentences these people are getting are to protect the rights of the Vietnamese state, but the state has a responsibility to explain to the international community,” the activist said, implying that Vietnam must adhere to international norms regarding freedom of expression.
“Vietnam has signed many agreements allowing Vietnamese citizens to use the internet but then turns around and sentences to jail a citizen who just posts videos and stories on Facebook and Youtube. It proves that the UN has current [power] at all,” said Le Dung Vova.
Prior to his 2019 arrest, Dr. Haircut was in January 2018 fined 49 million dong (U.S. $2,100) for “distorting historical facts and slander,” but Nguyen never paid.
The indictment said that between June 2018 and June 2019, Dr. Haircut had shared 31 videos, causing confusion among the people, with the aim of opposing the state.
Rights situation worsening
The 88 Project, an Illinois-based NGO that tracks political prisoners, found that last year Vietnam arrested 41 people for peaceful activism and tried 61 for “national security” crimes.
In addition the 88 Project documented 96 incidents of activists being harassed, and 16 cases of torture of political prisoners.
“Vietnam has failed to uphold its international commitments made during its [UN Human Rights Council] 2019 Universal Periodic Review,” the 88 Project said in the 2019 Report on Political Prisoners and Activists at Risk in Vietnam.
“The crackdown on dissent shows no signs of slowing down in 2020, and it is highly unlikely that Vietnam will fulfill its human rights obligations moving forward,” it added.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of which 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Eugene Whong.