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Three bloggers face 20 years in jail for spreading anti-state propaganda

Vietnamese bloggers Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan face 20 years in jail on anti-state charges
Vietnamese bloggers Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan face 20 years in jail on anti-state charges
Three well-known Vietnamese bloggers who are already being held in open-ended detentions have been charged with spreading anti-government propaganda and face up to 20 more years in jail, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Human Rights Watch.

The journalists, Nguyen Van Hai, Phan Thanh Hai and Ta Phong Tan, were accused of posting 421 articles on their blogs that "denigrated the state", which is punishable by up to 20 years, reports CPJ. All three belong to the outlawed Free Journalists Network of Vietnam (FJNV).

Said FJNV, "[The bloggers] are among the devoted people who have contributed greatly to the free journalism movement in Vietnam. The authorities can put them behind bars, but their beliefs will not be imprisoned and will be carried on by our members."

Nguyen Van Hai, better known by his pen name Dieu Cay, is well known for his critiques on China, such as reporting on demonstrations against the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch relay. According to FJNV, he has been kept behind bars even after serving out his sentence on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, and has been denied access to his family and lawyers for the past 18 months.

Phan Thanh Hai (who blogs under the pen name Anhbasg or Anh Ba Sai Gon) was arrested in October 2010 under a provisional order, and held without charge ever since, says CPJ. Although he finished his legal studies in 2008 and fulfilled all requirements to become a lawyer, his application was turned down by the Justice Ministry because of his involvement in protests and his blogging activities. He also wrote about Vietnam's relations with China.

Ta Phong Tan, a former police officer who documented social injustice on her blog http://conglysuthat.blogspot.ca/ (Justice and Truth), was arrested in September 2011, reports CPJ. It is unclear if formal charges were previously brought against her.

Nguyen Van Hai and Phan Thanh Hai are also accused of attending a non-violence training course aimed at overthrowing the government, says CPJ.

Practically all Vietnamese media outlets are under state control, so some have turned to the Internet to report on sensitive issues, say the IFEX members.

"With more than seven hundred state-controlled media outlets and thousands of pro-government web portals, the Vietnam government has a giant propaganda machine working to beautify the face of the state," said Human Rights Watch. "So what do the authorities have to fear from a handful of bloggers, equipped with only personal cameras and computers, and why are they so determined to persecute them?"

Human Rights Watch has translated excerpts from their blogs. Read them here.

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