Vietnamese Online Activist Ordered Jailed for 15 Years

A court in Vietnam’s south-central coastal province of Phu Yen has sentenced an online activist to 15 years in prison on charges of plotting to overthrow the country’s one-party communist government, sources said today.

The sentence, to be followed by five years of probation, was handed down to Ngo Hao, a former soldier, on Wednesday in accordance with Article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code, which forbids “carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.”

Hao, aged about 65, was arrested on Feb. 8 and charged only because of his online writings on behalf of other dissidents, his son Ngo Minh Tam told RFA’s Vietnamese Service today.

“He has always argued that his activities were not wrong, and that the only thing ‘wrong’ is that they have not been accepted by the government,” Tam said.

“But whenever he opened his mouth to say something, they would not let him speak,” he said.

Hao, who was flanked in court by two policemen, showed signs of exhaustion throughout the morning-long trial, Tam said.

“My father’s health is not good,” he said, adding, “From 7:30 when the trial started until 9:30 he was so tired that the court had to adjourn for 20 minutes.”

“At 11:30, he was tired again, but they said he had to remain until the verdict was delivered.”

Support for other dissidents

Hao said before his trial that he had tried in his writings to support other Vietnamese activist groups—such as jailed members of the Bia Son environmental group and Hoa Hao religious minority—who had asked him to seek help on their behalf from the U.N. and rights group Human Rights Watch.

“[The authorities] used these writings, which had spread online, as the basis for their charges against him,” said his son.

Family members had received notice of Hao’s trial only a week before, and could not afford a lawyer to represent him, Tam said.

“They did arrange a lawyer for my father, but this was just a procedure,” he said.

Though Tam had been allowed to attend the trial, his mother and a younger sibling had been barred from the court, he added.

Charges in Hao’s indictment specified that from 2008 to Dec. 2012 he had collected, written, and spread essays and other documents “vilifying [Vietnam’s] government and leaders” and had sought to inspire an Arab Spring-type revolution in the one-party communist state using “nonviolent means.”

Hao, who had served in the South Vietnamese army before 1975, was also accused of receiving a total of U.S. $1,500 in several payments from exile groups to be distributed among other democracy activists, the indictment charged.

Vietnam has jailed more than 40 bloggers and activists this year amid a crackdown on online dissent that  has intensified over the past three years, convicting many of them under vaguely worded national security provisions, according to rights groups.

Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 172nd out of 179 countries on its press freedoms index and lists the country as an “Enemy of the Internet.”

Reported by An Nguyen for RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.