The People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City today passed sentence on three Christian bloggers in a case that has polarized the religious community and drawn international criticism.
Nguyen Van Hai and Marie Ta Phong Tan received sentences of 12 years and 10 years, respectively, with five additional years of house arrest, while Phan Thanh Hai received a four-year sentence and three years of house arrest.
The bloggers were charged with spreading anti-government propaganda under Article 88 of the country’s criminal code. They were founding members of the Free Journalist Club, an organization not recognized as an official body by the government.
State media reports before today’s verdict said Phan Thanh Hai had “pleaded guilty and asked for a lenient sentence,” while the two other defendants “obstinately” denied the charges against them.
The United States embassy in Hanoi was quick to criticize the verdict.
“We are deeply concerned by reports that the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court convicted and sentenced blogger Dieu Cay [Nguyen Van Hai] to 12 years in prison for peacefully expressing his political views,” the embassy said in a statement today.
“The government’s treatment of Dieu Cay appears to be inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to freedom of expression and due process,” the statement added.
It further urged the government to “release Dieu Cay and his fellow bloggers. As President Obama said on World Press Freedom Day, we call upon all governments to take the necessary steps to create societies in which independent journalists can operate freely and without fear.”
Local blogs reported that an estimated 400 security officials blocked access to the court and confiscated cameras and mobile phones from bystanders who attempted to take photos.
About 18 people, including Nguyen Van Hai’s wife and son, as well as Ta Phong Tan’s two sisters, were taken into custody, according to local blog reports.
Phan Thanh Hai’s wife was allowed to attend the trial today but was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “Freedom for Compatriots.”
Dang Thi Kim Lieung, mother of Marie Ta Phong Tan, self-immolated and died on July 30 in protest over her daughter’s continued detention, drawing widespread criticism of the government from the USand human rights organizations.