Vietnam bloggers jailed for human rights reporting must be released
Bloggers Nguyễn Hữu Vinh and Ngô Hào, are both currently serving sentences in Vietnamese prisons for their online reporting of human rights abuses.
Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI), and students from the University of Edinburgh’s Freedom of Expression Law Clinic, today filed petitions to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, urging the Working Group to intervene for their release.
Nguyễn Hữu Vinh (aka Anh Ba Sàm) was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this year, following 22 months in pre-trial detention, for publishing various articles on his blogs about alleged government corruption and other political issues. His blogs, Chep Su Viet (“Writing Vietnamese History”) and Dan Quyen (“Civil Rights”), became key sources of independent information in Vietnam, attracting millions of views between 2012 and 2014. The blogs gathered daily news articles from foreign media, pro-democracy bloggers and independent journalists, some of which were critical of the Communist Party in Vietnam. Government authorities arrested and detained Nguyễn Hữu Vinh in May 2014 and subsequently charged him with “abusing his democratic freedoms” through his publications. In March 2015, after a one-day trial held behind closed doors, the People’s Court of Hanoi found that Nguyễn Hữu Vinh’s blogging activities had “infringed upon the interests the State”. He is currently serving his five-year sentence in a cell with inadequate sunlight, and his health has deteriorated under oppressive prison conditions.
Fellow blogger Ngô Hào received a 15-year prison sentence in 2013, after the Vietnamese courts found his postings on Yahoo Groups to be “contrary to the interests of the State”. Ngô Hào often criticised Vietnam’s human rights abuses, including land confiscations and harassment of religious leaders. In February 2013, he was arrested without a warrant and charged with taking actions “aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”. Ngô Hào was convicted, on 11 September 2013, following a one-day trial during which he was prevented from questioning or calling witnesses and from addressing the court. He is currently serving a 15-year sentence with hard labour, which has had a profound effect on his health. In May 2016, Ngô Hào suffered a stroke and had to be taken to the prison clinic for treatment. His family are continuously concerned about his precarious health. He is currently being held at a prison 300km away from his family, making visitation incredibly difficult, which only adds to the family’s concern.
“These cases illustrate the government of Vietnam’s complete contempt for independent bloggers and online news aggregators. Nguyễn Hữu Vinh and Ngô Hào were fearlessly providing online content that criticised or embarrassed the ruling party. For this they have been arrested, held in significant periods of pre-trial detention, and sentenced to disproportionate prison terms. Vietnam should release them, and drop all the unjust charges against them”, said Jonathan McCully, MLDI's Junior Legal Officer.
Twelve students worked in two groups to draft the petitions, which request that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declare that the detentions violate international law. They hope the petitions will put pressure on Vietnam, resulting in the release and the dismissal of all charges against Nguyễn Hữu Vinh and Ngô Hào.
The Freedom of Expression Law Clinic was formed with the objective of inspiring students to pursue a career in freedom of expression and human rights law. MLDI has been collaborating with the law clinic since September 2015, having been involved in a similar clinic at Zagreb University in 2014.