A prominent Vietnamese blogger and rights campaigner serving a two-year prison sentence for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” was released on Tuesday, according to the blogger.
Truong Duy Nhat, 51, was sentenced in early March 2014, charged under Article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code. Scores of bloggers and dissidents have been charged under Article 258 in recent years, which rights groups say is deliberately vague and used to prosecute critics of Vietnam’s one-party communist government.
Mainstream media accused Nhat of posting slanderous articles about Communist Party leaders on his blog “Mot Cach Nhin Khac” (“Another Viewpoint”).
Following his release, Nhat told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that although he now had a herniated cervical disc, “nothing can keep me down.”
“Now that I’m out of prison, I hope that those who try to destroy this country will be jailed instead of me,” he said.
“I have nothing to be afraid of,” Nhat said about the possibility that Vietnamese authorities might harass or re-incarcerate him for continuing to speak out against the regime.
“Even if they send me to a life in prison or execute me, I’m telling you this sentence that you might already have known: They can harass, bully and attack your behavior, but they can’t harass your mind.”
Criticizing the government
Nhat used to work for state-owned newspapers, including Dai Doan Ket and Cong An Quang Nam, run by the Danang police force, but abandoned mainstream media to begin writing “Another Viewpoint” in 2011.
The blog, which became widely known for its criticism of the government, was one of the most popular blogs in Vietnam before it was taken off the Internet after police arrested Nhat in May 2013.
Police had searched his home in Danang city on the south central coast of Vietnam as part of a crackdown by authorities on online dissent.
Authorities accused Nhat of posting articles that “were not true [and] defamed leaders of the party and state,” according to his indictment.
They took him into custody for posting articles on his blog calling for the resignations of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong.
Nhat also had conducted an online opinion poll ahead of a first-ever confidence vote on senior officials that the country’s parliament held at a session in June 2013.
On March 4, 2014, Nhat received a two-year jail sentence, prompting outrage from rights groups and an expression of “deep concern” from the U.S. embassy in Hanoi, which called on Vietnam to release Nhat and “allow all Vietnamese to peacefully express their political views.”
Overseas rights groups condemned the ruling as part of a relentless drive to squelch online dissent, with global press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders saying it was “outraged” by the conviction.
Vietnam has jailed dozens of bloggers and rights advocates in recent years over their online posts, with rights groups accusing the government of using vague national security provisions against them to silence dissent.
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, approximately 150 to 200 activists and bloggers are serving prison time in Vietnam simply for exercising their basic rights.
Reported by Mac Lam and Khanh Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Ninh Pham. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.