Vietnam sentenced three political bloggers to between 11 and 15 years in prison on Tuesday for spreading anti-government propaganda, according to state media reports, in what rights groups said was part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent in the one-party state.
Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy and Le Huu Minh Tuan were sentenced in a Ho Chi Minh court on Tuesday, Jan. 5 after being charged with “making, storing, spreading information, materials, items that contain distorted information” about the government.
Fully independent media is not allowed in Vietnam, and activists, dissidents and journalists have mostly taken to Facebook to discuss sensitive topics, but even that platform has become increasingly censored.
Dung, 55, who was also accused of “writing for and corresponding with foreign news media,” helped set up a local journalist association and ran a political blog and website.
He received the harshest sentence of 15 years, while Thuy and Tuan were jailed for 11 years each. All three were accused of posting content that “defamed the people’s administration,” VNExpress reported.
Tuesday’s verdicts were the latest in a series of continuing state crackdowns against local activists and political dissidents by Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party as it prepares for a high-level national congress meeting.
The government takes the opportunity to detain dozens of human rights advocates during this time, according to rights groups.
Amnesty International slammed the court’s verdict, calling it a “travesty of justice.”
“The verdict underscores the Vietnamese authorities’ utter contempt for free media and strikes yet another blow to everyone’s right to access independent information,” Amnesty’s deputy regional director Emerlynne Gil said.
“These journalists’ only crime was daring to discuss politics and other matters of public interest. Even by its own deeply repressive standards, the severity of the sentences show the depths being reached by Vietnamese censors ahead of the Communist Party's upcoming congress.”