Nine years jail for criticising government

Police officers and plainclothes auxiliaries took up position outside the court.

Vietnam is continuing its campaign to crush freedom of expression on the internet, sentencing the government critic, Tran Thi Nga, to nine years in prison and five years on probation.

The verdict of the court in the northern province of Ha Nam follows a ten year jail term imposed last month on the blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who wrote under the name “Mother Mushroom”.

Ms Nga’s relatives and supporters were denied access to the courtroom, although it was described by officials as a public hearing.

Her husband and two young sons were amongst those obliged to wait outside the court for news of the verdict.

Witnesses said the benches were packed with functionaries and members of the Women’s Union, which is affiliated to the all powerful Communist party.

State prosecutors had requested a sentence of nine to ten years on the charge of “spreading propaganda against the state”.

Ms Nga was arrested six months ago and accused of uploading articles and videos onto the internet that were critical of the government.

Her supporters suspect the authorities were antagonised by her support for the protest movement over last year’s chemical leak off the north-central coast which devastated fish stocks.

Familiar pattern

Her lawyer said the verdict was unfair and that his client was not guilty as charged.

International rights organisations have called for the activist’s immediate release, saying that her non-violent protests were in line with the Vietnamese government’s own theoretical commitment to free speech.

Nga’s arrest and conviction followed a pattern that has become familiar in recent months.

She was detained in isolation for six months, denied access to family members and other sympathisers, and then presented for a perfunctory one day trial at short notice.

Like other civil society activists, she was given little opportunity to prepare her case or defend herself in court.

Critics say the communist authorities have dropped any pretence of offering a fair trial to their critics, who are charged with a range of political offences that carry long prison sentences.