An appeal court today reduced French-Vietnamese blogger Pham Minh Hoang’s jail sentence from three years to 17 months but upheld an additional sentence of three years of house arrest after his release from prison. As Hoang has been detained since August 2010, he is due to be released from jail on 12 January.
“We are obviously pleased by the reduction in Hoang’s jail sentence but we deplore the decision to keep him in prison for another seven weeks and, above all, the decision to keep him under house arrest for the next three years,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “This sentence violates the principles enshrined in Vietnam’s constitution.”
At today’s hearing, the appeal court judge said he had taken account of Hoang’s “recognition” of “his errors,” his request for clemency and his pledge to sever all ties with Viet Tan, an outlawed pro-democracy party. The judge said he also took account of his parents’ age – they are both in in their 90s – and the desire to “maintain good relations between France and Vietnam.”
Hoang was sentence to three years in prison and three years of house arrest last August on a charge of trying to overthrow the government.
Call for transparency and respect for constitution at blogger’s appeal hearing
Reporters Without Borders urges the court that will hear the blogger Pham Minh Hoang’s appeal tomorrow to quash his conviction on a charge of trying to overthrow the government. Hoang, who has French and Vietnamese dual citizenship, was sentenced in August to three years in prison and three years of house arrest.
“Hoang was just expressing his views on subjects of public interest in Vietnam, a right guaranteed by the country’s constitution,” Reporters Without Borders. “Nonetheless, he has already been held for more than a year. He must be released and his conviction must be overturned. We reiterate our appeal to the French government and international community to put pressure on the Vietnamese authorities to free Hoang.”
The press freedom organization added: “The journalists and observers who want to attend tomorrow’s hearing should be able to do so. The authorities must allow this in order to ensure the transparency of the appeal proceedings. We also urge the court to heed the articles of the constitution that absolve Hoang of all of these charges.”
Article 43 of the constitution gives citizens the right to participate in public affairs and matter of concern to society, and to discuss local and national issues. Article 69 guarantees free speech and media freedom. Citizens have the right to receive information, to assemble, to form associations and to demonstrate as long as they respect the law. Article 71 protects the physical integrity, privacy, health, honour and dignity of citizens. No one may be arrested without a court order or properly certified warrant except when caught in the act of committing a crime.
Hoang, who used the blog name of Phan Kien Quoc, wrote about education, the environment and Vietnam’s sovereignty disputes with China. He participated in a campaign against bauxite mining by Chinese companies in Vietnam’s central highlands and took part in conferences on Vietnam’s claims to the Paracel and Spratly Islands. A university teacher, he also gave extra-curricular training in leadership to his students and is a member of the pro-democracy party Viet Tan.
He was sentenced to three years in prison and three years of house arrest by a Hanoi court on 10 August on a charge of trying to topple the government. The court found that he had “undermined national security” and “besmirched the country’s image.” Arrested on 13 August 2010, Hoang spent almost a year in pre-trial detention. Under Vietnamese law, this should be discounted from the jail time he has to serve.
Armed security agents tried to intimidate journalists during the trial and to dissuade them from covering the proceedings. His wife, Le Thi Kieu Oanh, was not allowed to attend the trial and it is still not clear whether she will be allowed to attend tomorrow’s appeal hearing. When his mother asked to attend, she was told there were no more seats left in the courtroom.
On 26 October, Reporters Without Borders launched a campaign aimed at drawing the attention of potential visitors to Vietnam to the media freedom situation and censorship there. At least three journalists and 17 netizens are currently detained in Vietnam.