A Vietnamese court on Monday jailed a blogger for seven years for disseminating anti-state “propaganda” including articles which supported protests against a Taiwanese firm responsible for a toxic leak. Space for free expression is shrinking in the Communist country, with at least 15 activists and dissidents having been arrested and several others jailed so far this year.
Nguyen Van Hoa, 22, an environmental activist, was accused of instigating protests against authorities via his Facebook account, mainly following the 2016 toxic leak at a steel factory operated by Taiwan’s Formosa. Formosa was fined $500 million after being blamed for dumping waste along Vietnam’s central coast, which poisoned fish and decimated the incomes of fishing communities.
The plant became the focal point for anger at environmental damage wrought by big business. Protests against the Taiwanese company were met with crackdowns by authorities. Hoa was also accused of taking part in the protest, according to a state media report quoting the indictment, which said he had “posted articles, videos and images with negative content on his Facebook (page)” while spreading “spreading reactionary propaganda against the party and state’s policies”.
Some of the posts in question date back to 2013. He was convicted after a speedy trial in Ha Tinh province, a clerk said without giving details. The conviction comes more than one month after authorities detained Tran Thi Xuan, another Vietnamese activist demonstrating against Formosa. She was charged under a separate part of the criminal code that carries a possible death sentence for attempting to overthrow the government.
Vietnam routinely imprisons activists, bloggers and lawyers, but its poor rights record worsened further after a new conservative leadership assumed power last year. Authorities have come under fire for a spate of arrests this year and in the lead-up to US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Danang earlier in the month.
During the trip artist Mai Khoi was locked inside her house after holding up a sign that said “Piss on you Trump” as the president’s motorcade passed through town in Hanoi. Observers say Trump’s hands-off approach to human rights has freed authoritarian leaders across Southeast Asia and beyond to launch crackdowns without fear of censure.
In Vietnam’s most infamous recent case, 37-year-old Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known by her pen name “Mother Mushroom”, was sentenced to 10 years in June under the same charge as Hoa. US First Lady Melania Trump bestowed a “Woman of Courage Award” on Quynh in March.