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'Professor Haircut' jailed for criticizing Vietnam govt

Peaceful activist posted on Facebook about the country's political situation and social problems

UCA News reporter, Hanoi

UCA News reporter, Hanoi

Updated: June 24, 2020 08:01 AM GMT
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'Professor Haircut' jailed for criticizing Vietnam govt

Nguyen Van Nghiem and a police order to prosecute him in 2019. (Photo courtesy of RFA)

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A peaceful activist has been jailed for six years for posting material about Vietnam’s political situation on Facebook.

On June 23, the People’s Court of Hoa Binh province sentenced Nguyen Van Nghiem for “making, storing, spreading information and materials for opposing the State of Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of the country’s Criminal Code.

State-run Hoa Binh newspaper reported that Nghiem, 57, posted and shared many writings and clips expressing his personal views on the country’s political situation and social problems.

In 2018, Hoa Binh city authorities fined him 49 million dong (US$2,120) for posting two video clips distorting the truth of history and offending other people, but he refused to pay.

The newspaper said that Nghiem, who used the nickname “Professor Haircut” on social media, spread 31 clips with content libeling government authorities and causing confusion among the people from June 2018 to June 2019.

Rights group Defend the Defenders reported that only the defendant’s wife Pham Thi Xuan was permitted to enter the courtroom for his trial.

The group said Nghiem had no legal assistance even though his wife had signed a contract with lawyer Ha Huy Son in Hanoi. The defendant could have been pressured by police to refuse legal counseling, it added.

Nghiem, who worked as a barber in Hoa Binh city, was arrested last November while he was livestreaming at home. His posts focused on human rights violations, corruption, environmental pollution and Chinese violations of Vietnam’s maritime sovereignty and Vietnam’s weak response.

Xuan said on Facebook that her husband would be away from home for a long time. “I wish you to keep your health good in prison. We wait for a family reunion,” she said.

On June 22, the US-based 88 Project, a group that supports and encourages freedom of expression in Vietnam, highlighted Vietnam’s troublesome rights record in its 2019 Report on Political Prisoners and Activists at Risk in Vietnam.

The report said the crackdown worsened during the year in several notable areas, including the ramped-up arrests and prosecution of ordinary citizens who expressed their opinions online.

It said among 41 individuals arrested for peaceful activism, 40 percent were online commentators with no extensive history of activism and half were charged with “conducting propaganda against the state,” an increase from previous years.

Some 17 people were sentenced to between 5-9 years in jail and 10 others were sentenced to 10 years or more.

It reported 61 individuals tried for national security crimes, 84 activists at risk who faced harassment in 96 incidents, and 16 documented cases of torture of political prisoners.

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