A court in the northern city of Vinh on today ruled on the appeals by five bloggers – Ho Duc Hoa, Paulus Le Van Son, Nguyen Van Duyet, Thai Van Dung and Tran Minh Nhat - against their long jail terms, upholding the existing sentences for three of them and reducing the sentences of the other two.
“Even if the appeal court reduced Son’s sentence by a considerable amount, it is still unacceptable and reflects the government’s determination to reduce all dissidents to silence,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The charges brought against these five bloggers were and continue to be a complete lie. None of them ever tried to overthrow the regime. We continue to demand their release.”
Son’s sentence was reduced from 13 years in prison to four, while Duyet’s was reduced from four years to three and a half. The sentences of the other three (13 years for Hoa, and four years for Dung and Nhat) were confirmed. Follow-up probation periods of three to five years were also confirmed.
During the hearing, each of the defendants criticized the harshness of their sentences and insisted they never intended to overthrow the government.
Son became extremely upset during the hearing on learning that his mother had died a few months ago. He had not previously been told this. In his final words, spoken just before the judge issued his ruling, he asked to be forgiven for his “errors” and requested a milder sentence so that he could go home and care for his mother’s grave.
Until then he had been the only defendant to refuse to ask for forgiveness. Dung, for his part, said: “If this country is democratic, I will be acquitted by this appeal court.”
As at the original trial, the atmosphere at today’s hearing was very tense. Yesterday, the police asked bus owners to refuse to drive relatives of the defendants to the appeal court. State-owned bus companies also suspended their usual services.
The tension around the courthouse increased when around 2,000 policemen began mingling with the estimated 500 people who turned up to support the five bloggers. Mobile phones were unable to find a network connection anywhere near the courthouse.
Two bloggers, Bui Minh Hang and La Viet Dung, were arrested before reaching the courthouse. Tran Thuy Nga, a land rights activist who had come to support the five bloggers, was also arrested.
A policeman responsible for security hit the netizen Tu Anh Tu in the chest as he approached the court. On his Facebook page, Tu said he had not been hurt by the blow but by the fact that he had been targeted by officials who are supposed to serve the people. He also criticized the government’s passive stance on Vietnam’s territorial disputes with China.
The five bloggers were accused of having links with Viet Tan, a pro-democracy party based in the United States that is banned in Vietnam and regarded as a “terrorist” organization by the government. The appeals of three young activists who were tried with the five bloggers were also heard yesterday.
On 16 May, a court in Long An sentenced two young bloggers, Dinh Nguyen Kha and Nguyen Phuong Uyen, to eight and six years in prison respectively, followed by three years of house arrest.
According to the indictment, there were accused of maintaining contact via Facebook with a Vietnamese dissident now living abroad, who urged them to join the “Patriotic Youth,” a group that the authorities call “reactionary.”