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Vietnam jails toll road opponents

Protesters claim many such highways are benefiting vested financial interests rather than locals
Vietnam jails toll road opponents

Police on July 30 stop people from entering a court in Bac Ninh Province of northern Vietnam where seven people were sentenced to prison terms over a protest that blocked a controversial toll road. (Photo supplied)

Published: August 01, 2019 03:22 AM GMT
Updated: August 01, 2019 03:30 AM GMT

A court in northern Vietnam has convicted an anti-corruption activist and six others opposing a toll road for creating 'public disorder' and sentenced them to imprisonment.

The state-run Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper reported on July 30 proceedings of the People's Court of Que Vo District in Bac Ninh Province, which is located near the communist nation's capital, Hanoi.

The newspaper said that activist Ha Van Nam, 38, was handed a term of two and a half years imprisonment after the court found that in December he incited others to repeatedly block traffic at the then newly constructed Pha Lai tollbooth.

That resulted in disruption to traffic on the highway connecting the three northern provinces of Bac Ninh, Hai Duong and Quang Ninh.

The protesters maintained that the road-use charges were unfair to local residents.

The six other defendants, aged 26 to 33, were given prison sentences ranging from one and a half to three years.

The seven defendants were also ordered to pay 23 million dong (US$1,000) as compensation to the tollbooth operator.

Police and security officers maintained video surveillance and stopped relatives and supporters from entering the court building where the trial took place.

Outside the court, protesters shouted slogans such as "Free Nam" and claimed that he and the others were victims of vested financial interests.

Nam, a Hanoi resident, has in the past used social media outlets to oppose other toll roads.

Supporters say that before his arrest in March, Nam was abducted and brutally beaten by unidentified men wearing civilian clothes.

Local activists have accused government officials of benefiting from links with companies building and operating toll roads.

By 2017, Vietnam had some 88 toll stations on roads funded by investors under Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) schemes.

Before the latest trial, Amnesty International said Nam's alleged crime was simply to criticize rampant corruption in hugely popular live streams.

Nam was peacefully reporting allegations of injustice, human rights violations and corruption in Vietnam, Joanne Mariner, the group's Senior Crisis Adviser, said when calling for him to be unconditionally released from prison.

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