Vietnam is continuing its crackdown on dissent, with four more people sentenced to terms of imprisonment for challenging state authority.
Three women farmers were jailed for up to four years for displaying flags of the old government of South Vietnam during protests against land seizures.
A blogger, best known by his pen name, Nguyen Ngoc Gia, also received a four year term for carrying out “propaganda against the state”.
He was the third blogger to be sent to jail in a week, following a long period when the government refrained from legal action and relied more on physical intimidation to silence its critics.
The United States and international human rights groups have called on Vietnam to stop persecuting peaceful activists and to fulfil its commitment to respect freedom of speech.
Gia was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City more than a year ago, and like Ba Sam, the other well known blogger convicted in March, was held for well over a year before facing trial.
He became known to readers in Vietnam through his writings on human rights and democracy for the independent news portal, Dan Lam Bao (Citizen Journalism), which is based overseas.
According to the indictment, on December 25, 2014, the HCMC public security agency received a denunciation from the Saigon Postal Corp (SPT), a local internet service provider, that its client had been “spreading articles online defaming the party and the state.”
Gia was arrested two days later and little was heard of him until his court appearance on Wednesday March 30.
He was convicted and sentenced in a two hour trial, with the verdict saying that he had received a degree of leniency because he had pleaded guilty and his grandmother had been a “heroic Vietnamese mother”.
Waving banned flag
The three farmers were convicted on the same charge, under Article 88 of the penal code, which is often used to suppress government critics.
Ngo Thi Minh Uoc received a four year term, while the other two, Nguyen Thi Tri and Nguyen Thi Be Hai received three year sentences.
The women were accused of waving the banned flag of the former Republic of Vietnam in front of the US consulate in Ho Chi Minh City.
One of the women said that she had been persuaded by an unnamed person that carrying the flag would help their cause for the return of land appropriated by the local government.
State media said their action was described by the judge as “very serious, infringing on national security, distorting, instigating, causing suspicion and mistrust of the people in the party and state.”
Some activists believe the women were badly advised and naive to carry the flags. They appeared to believe it would draw attention to the desperation of their situation and help achieve a solution.
Displaying symbols of the defunct Saigon regime is illegal and relatively rare in a country where, for the bulk of the population, memories of the war and national division faded long ago.