(HRW) – The upcoming trial of popular blogger Truong Duy Nhat “demonstrates that there is no slackening of the Vietnamese authorities’ determination to target people for peaceful criticism,” Human Rights Watch said on Mar. 3.
“Truong Duy Nhat’s trial is part of the Vietnamese government’s futile effort to silence the increasingly effervescent community of Vietnamese bloggers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Instead of creating another political prisoner, the government should release Truong Duy Nhat and all others who are jailed merely for disagreeing with the government and the party.”
Truong Duy Nhat’s indictment states that his opinions caused people to lose faith in the government and communist party. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
Truong Duy Nhat, 50, is a former journalist with two official publications. He worked for the police newspaper of Quang Nam-Da Nang province from 1987 to 1995, and for the Dai Doan Ket (Great Unity) newspaper from 1995 to 2011. In 2011, he announced he would no longer report for the authorized media and founded the blog Mot goc nhin khac (Another Point of View).
In his blog, Truong Duy Nhat criticized the government and raised concerns about China’s claims to maritime territory off the Vietnamese coast. He has also called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and the Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, accusing them of being responsible for what he described as Vietnam’s “political chaos” and “uncontrolled corruption.”
On May 26, 2013, shortly after a posting that called for resignation of the prime minister and Communist Party chief, officials from the national Public Security Ministry arrested him at his home in Da Nang during a wave of arrests of bloggers. He was taken to Hanoi for police questioning and has been held in pretrial detention since. His blog ceased publication.
Apparently in response to the call for the officials’ resignations, the People’s Procuracy in Hanoi indicted him on December 17 under article 258 of Vietnam’s penal code. This vague provision outlawing “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state” has routinely been used to imprison people for peaceful criticism of official policies and practices.
Since the arrests of Truong Duy Nhat and others in 2013, a newly established Network of Vietnamese Bloggers and other recently formed groups have campaigned against the use of article 258 to penalize freedom of opinion. Freedom of opinion is guaranteed in article 26 of the amended Vietnamese constitution that came into force on January 1, 2014. At the Universal Periodic Review of Vietnam’s human rights record by the United Nations Human Rights Council on Feb. 5, several UN member countries also called for Vietnam to stop using article 258 to prosecute people for expressing peaceful views.
“Vietnam’s government keeps testing the response of the international community to see if it will react when it uses the criminal law against peaceful critics,” Adams said. “Unless Truong Duy Nhat walks free, Vietnam’s donors and development partners should show the government that it can’t continue to lock people up this way without consequences.”