Vietnam jails two women for anti-govt activities

Rights advocates say defendants who urged protests are being punished merely for exercising freedom of speech
Vietnam jails two women for anti-govt activities

In this April 10, 2018 file photo, Vietnamese activist La Viet Dung in Hanoi holds up a phone with the screen displaying an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg. A group of Vietnamese activists and rights organisations wrote an open letter to the Facebook CEO suggesting his company may be colluding with communist authorities to scrub out online dissent. (AFP photo) reporter, Bien Hoa
May 14, 2019
A court in southern Vietnam has handed two female activists long prison terms for spreading online material against the communist government.

Other activists have accused the court of abusing its power and sentencing the activists unfairly.

The state-run Dong Nai newspaper reported that on May 10, the People's Court in Dong Nai province sentenced Vu Thi Dung, 54, and Nguyen Thi Ngoc Suong, 51, to six years and five years in jail, respectively.

Dung hails from Tan Phu district and Suong is from Dinh Quan.

The newspaper said both defendants were charged with "producing, storing and spreading information and materials against the state of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."

It reported that from August to October last year, Dung and Suong used their smartphones to watch videos and read articles on social media containing subversive or "anti-state" content.

They were accused of calling on people to demonstrate against a new cybersecurity law, a proposed special economic development plan, and Chinese investment.

They were arrested while delivering leaflets featuring the alleged anti-state content.

Rights advocate Tran Thu Nguyet said the sentences were unfair. The court appointed an attorney called Dung to defend the two women. He met them at a detention center, gave them money, and told them to obey his instructions.

"They followed him and were sentenced to 11 years in total," she said.

Nguyet said the two defendants refused to meet a lawyer she introduced to their relatives, which she believes was due to police coercion.

She said one of the women was arrested on Oct. 13, 2018 while selling bread at a local market. Police found no materials at her home but accused her of sharing live-streamed calls on social media urging public protests.

Defend the Defenders, a group advocating for human rights activists in Vietnam, said Dung and Suong were jailed "because they exercised their rights of freedom of expression and access to information."

Vu Quoc Ngu, who runs the group, said it plans to contact their families and offer assistance.

Some 33 activists are currently behind bars in Vietnam on charges of conducting anti-state propaganda, he said.

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