Vietnam jails three critics ahead of big party congress

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Hanoi (AFP)

Vietnam jailed three pro-democracy bloggers on Tuesday on anti-state charges, one of their lawyers said, weeks before the Communist government’s party congress.

The run-up to a leadership transition later this month is a particularly tense time for the state as candidates scramble for power behind closed doors.

In recent months, the authoritarian regime has stepped up its crackdown on dissent and stopped many criticisms.

In a speedy trial in Ho Chi Minh City, three critics of the state who belong to the banned Vietnam Independent Journalists Association (IJAV) were sentenced to prison terms for “producing and broadcasting ‘information against’ Vietnam.

High-level writer Pham Chi Dung, 54, founding member and president of the IJAV, was jailed for 15 years, while military veteran Nguyen Tuong Thuy, 69, was sentenced to 11 years.

A younger member of the group, Le Huu Minh Tuan, was also sentenced to an 11-year term.

The trio are well known for calling for greater democracy in Vietnam.

Lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng told AFP they admitted to writing articles “to support free speech and other democratic rights”, but denied disseminating information against the Communist regime.

According to the court verdict quoted by state media, the three “had been in regular contact with opponents of the regime” before their arrest in late 2019 and mid-2020.

The head of the IJAV, Dung, had written articles for foreign news agencies with the aim of “changing the political system of Vietnam”, he said.

The behavior of the defendants constituted “a danger to society … causing separation in social unity and people”, he added.

The verdict was strongly opposed by international human rights groups.

“Even by its own deeply repressive standards, the harshness of the sentences shows how Vietnamese censors are reaching the depths before the … next party congress,” said Amnesty International deputy regional director Emerlynne Gil.

“The only crime of these journalists was to dare to discuss politics and other matters of public interest,” she said.

There are more than 170 prisoners of conscience currently incarcerated in Vietnam, Amnesty said.

In December, writer and poet Tran Duc Thach was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his posts critical of the government posted on Facebook, nearly a decade after being released from prison for a similar offense.

The Communist Party Congress will be held from January 25 to February 2 in Hanoi.

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