A court in northern-central Vietnam’s Nghe An province on Monday sentenced prominent blogger and former political prisoner Nguyen Van Oai to five years in prison and four years of house arrest for resisting police officers and leaving his home while on probation, his lawyer said.
Oai, 36, was taken into custody by plainclothes officers on Jan. 19 while walking along a street in the town of Hoang Mai in Nghe An province for “resisting persons on duty” after authorities accused him of violating the terms of a house arrest order he received in 2015 for having ties to the outlawed Viet Tan pro-democracy organization.
As a member of Viet Tan and a cofounder of the Association of Catholic Former Prisoners of Conscience, Oai has campaigned for political prisoners and written about social injustice on his Facebook page, according to a statement issued by Viet Tan on Monday.
“In court, I said Mr. Oai was not guilty, but the court still upheld two convictions and sentenced him to five years imprisonment in addition to four years of probation which he owed from the first sentence in 2013,” Ha Huy Son, the attorney who defended Oai, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
In August 2011, Oai was among a group of 14 Catholic and Protestant youths arrested as part of a crackdown on activists with ties to religious organizations, anti-China protests, environmental advocacy, and citizen journalism.
He was sentenced in 2013 to four years in prison and three years of probation for attempting to overthrow the government or joining organizations with the “intent” to do so under Article 79 of Vietnam's Penal Code. He completed that jail term in 2015, including time served since his 2011 arrest.
Article 79 is one of a number of vague statutes that authorities often use to detain writers and bloggers who criticize the country's communist govenrment and its policies.
“In front of the court, Mr. Oai told the truth and claimed that he had not committed any crime,” Son said. “The court did not listen to what he said and still sentenced him to the maximum sentence suggested by the People’s Procuratorate.”
Oai, who has maintained his innocence, saying he only spoke out to demand rights for the people of Vietnam in accordance with the country’s constitution and laws, will appeal the sentence, Son said.
Harassed by police
None of Oai’s relatives was allowed to attend the trial, which was originally scheduled for Aug. 21.
“Despite authorities calling this a ‘public trial,’ his family was not permitted to attend,” Viet Tan statement said. “Outside the courthouse, police assaulted Nguyen Van Oai’s mother and deployed trucks with jamming devices to block cellular service.”
A person who attempted to attend the trial told RFA that a group of Oai’s supporters, including his mother, met at 7 a.m. at the Yen Dai church to go to the court.
“When we arrived at the court entrance, the police did not let us in,” said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity, adding that officers pushed them around, videoed them, and turned up the volume on some speakers to get them to leave.
Police also stomped on the toes of Oai’s mother until they bled, he said.
“We waited until 11 o’clock when the trial ended,” he said. “Then we saw lawyer Ha Huy Son coming out and a prison car which we thought was carrying Oai. Lawyer Son said that he was not allowed to say much during the hearing.”
Oai is one of more than 20 activists and bloggers who have been detained since the beginning of the year, according to Viet Tan.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.