Songwriters given stiff jail terms
US criticizes restriction on freedom of expression
Two men were given jail time yesterday for writing songs critical of government policies, prompting the US to urge Vietnam to release them. The People’s Court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Tran Vu Anh Binh, 38, to six years in prison and Vo Minh Tri, 34, to four years for spreading anti-government propaganda, local state-run media reported yesterday. The trial lasted five hours, it said. Both men were also reportedly sentenced to two years of house arrest at the end of their prison terms. Binh, of Ho Chi Minh City, and Tri, from nearby My Tho, were arrested in late 2011. Tri, whose stage name is Viet Khang, was found guilty of composing two songs, Viet Nam Toi Dau ("Where is My Vietnam?") and Anh La Ai? ("Who Are You?”), urging Vietnamese people to rise up against China over disputed islands in the South China Sea claimed by both Vietnam and China and criticizing a government crackdown on anti-China protesters in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. A video for Viet Nam Toi Dau received 700,000 views on YouTube. Binh, whose stage name is Hoang Nhat Thong, was accused of running and posting songs and news on Patriotic Youth's website. He was also found guilty of handing out anti-government leaflets and hanging up flags of the former South Vietnam regime. Tri reportedly admitted to the court that people who listen to the songs “would not be satisfied with the government,” but said that he “has no political reasons” for writing them. Tri also confirmed his membership of Tuoi Tre Yeu Nuoc (Patriotic Youth), an opposition group based overseas. The US embassy in Hanoi said it was deeply troubled by Tri's sentencing. “The Vietnamese government should release this musician, all prisoners of conscience and adhere to its international obligations immediately,” embassy spokesman Christopher Hodges said in a statement after the trial. “This conviction is the latest in a series of moves by Vietnamese authorities to restrict freedom of expression."