Drive to crush dissent enters third year

The youngest of the accused, Tran Hoang Phuc, made his name as a student activist.

A court in Hanoi has sentenced three pro-democracy activists to lengthy jail terms as an enhanced crackdown on dissent enters its third year.

Vu Quang Thuan, Nguyen Van Dien and Tran Hoang Phuc were accused of conducting propaganda against the state for posting videos on the internet that were critical of government leaders.

Prosecutors said they were guilty of multiple offences and so were liable to severe punishment.

Defence lawyers argued that the charges against them were vague and that their activities did not amount to crimes under the law.

Thuan, the oldest at 51, received an eight year sentence, Dien, six and a half years, and Phuc six years. All had been held incommunicado for several months following their arrests in March and June last year.

Phuc, 23, made a name for himself as a student activist while studying law at Ho Chi Minh City University.

“Tran Hoang Phuc, Vu Quang Thuan, and Nguyen Van Dien are among a growing group of bloggers and activists who use the internet to advance human rights and democracy in Vietnam,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“Arrest and imprisonment of dissenting voices will not stop the increasing number of Vietnamese from speaking up.”

Phuc became active in social activities in 2015, helping flood victims in the centre of the country and taking part in human rights campaigns organised by the Redemptorist Church.

He was one of the activists invited to meet President Obama during his visit in 2016.

Like many other rights campaigners and independent bloggers, he suffered routine harassment and a number of violent physical assaults by the police and their proxies.

On his arrest in June last year, he was accused by police of storing and posting documents that propagandise against the state.

Thuan is a veteran pro-democracy campaigner, who was released in 2015 after serving previous sentences for subversion.

Dien had worked with him during a previous campaign to improve the rights of Vietnamese workers in Malaysia.
The two worked together to post video coverage of their campaigns on the internet.

The Communist authorities have become increasingly sensitive to the use of social media by activist groups, fearing that the wide distribution of criticism is undermining their authority.

Some 100 activists are currently in detention or serving jail sentences, as Vietnam cements its reputation as one of the world’s most repressive media environments.