Environmental activist Dinh Thi Thu Thuy was convicted of an anti-state campaign. (Photo supplied)
Vietnam has clamped down on freedom of expression ahead of a Communist Party congress by imposing a harsh jail sentence on an environmental activist and blogger for an anti-state campaign.
On Jan. 20, the People’s Court of Hau Giang province in the southern Mekong Delta sentenced Dinh Thi Thu Thuy to seven years in jail for “making, restoring, spreading information and materials so as to oppose the government” under Article 117 of the Criminal Law.
Thuy, a 39-year-old expert in aquaculture, was defended by lawyers Nguyen Van Mieng and Trinh Vinh Phuc at a four-hour trial attended by her father and two sisters guarded by seven policemen.
The lawyers said Thuy was a member of groups called Cuu Long Xanh (Green Mekong) and Suc Song Xanh (Green Life), which aim to protect the environment. Members collect garbage weekly and call on people to safeguard the environment by reducing plastic bags, chemical fertilizers and insecticides in agriculture. They also teach people how to differentiate low-quality foods of Chinese origin.
They said Thuy worked for the groups’ activities to be recognized and approved by local authorities.
The lawyers said in a report that police confiscated a black T-shirt and 12 face masks with crossed maps with nine dashes through the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East Sea. The Chinese government uses a U-shaped line to demarcate roughly 90 percent of the contested South China Sea for its homeland.
State-run media did not report the case.
Amnesty International called on Vietnam to end its relentless assault on human rights defenders and individuals exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“The Vietnamese authorities’ intolerance of peaceful dissent has peaked under the outgoing leadership. The nomination of new national leaders provides an invaluable opportunity for Vietnam to change course on human rights,” Yamini Mishra, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director, said on Jan. 20.
The Communist Party plans to hold its 13th congress from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2. During the congress, held every five years, government leaders are selected and policy priorities are set. It involves the nomination of new party leaders who are later formally appointed to government leadership positions by the National Assembly.
Amnesty said Article 4 of the country’s constitution, which says the Communist Party leads the state and society, has been relied upon to outlaw other political parties.
The rights group said Vietnam has made some strides in helping to realize economic and social rights for many people but this progress is severely undermined by its continued repression of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
“As Vietnam increasingly opens to global trade, its prison gates are slamming shut on an ever-rising number of peaceful individuals,” Amnesty said.
Amnesty has identified 170 prisoners of conscience in the Southeast Asian country. This is the highest number it has recorded since it began publishing comparable figures in 1996.
It said the number of prisoners of conscience has increased steeply in recent years and has doubled from 84 in the year of the previous congress in 2016. Prisoners of conscience are individuals who have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights.
Amnesty is calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience wrongfully detained in Vietnam.