Harsh response to report on environmental protest

Hoang Duc Binh (r) received a 14 year sentence. Nguyen Nam Phong got 2 years. Photo courtesy AP.

A court in Vietnam has sentenced a blogger and environmental campaigner to 14 years in prison – one of the heaviest sentences for an activist in recent years.

The punishment reveals the Communist party leadership’s sense of alarm over organised protests that followed a toxic chemical leak on the central coastline in April 2016.

Last February, Hoang Duc Binh reported on a march by fishermen who were attempting to file law suits for compensation over the damage caused by the leak from the Formosa steel complex. He livestreamed the protest on Facebook.

Following a brief trial, he was convicted on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” to damage the interests of the state.

Another activist, Nguyen Nam Phong, who assisted him, received a two year jail term.

The court said Binh had slandered the authorities by writing that the fishermen had been blocked by police and some of the participants assaulted.

Binh said he stood by the comments as they were true.

The government’s crackdown on dissent became more intense in 2016 as hardliners sought to crush organised protests in the aftermath of the Formosa disaster.

The prospect of disgruntled fishermen joining forces with city based civil society activists presented a challenge to the authority and legitimacy of the Communist party.

Other prominent bloggers, most notably Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, who wrote as Mother Mushroom, were also arrested and jailed after showing support for the Formosa protesters.