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Eight bloggers get sentences ranging from two to six years in jail

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is appalled by the jail sentences that eight Vietnamese bloggers received last week on charges of anti-government propaganda under article 88 of the criminal code. Vu Hung was sentenced to three years in prison in Hanoi on 7 October 2009. Pham Van Troi got a four-year sentence the next day.

The six other bloggers were given jail sentences on the same charges in Haiphong on 9 October. Nguyen Xuan Nghia (a writer) got six years. Nguyen Van Tinh and Nguyen Manh Son got three and a half years. Nguyen Van Tuc got four years. Ngo Quynh got three years and Nguyen Kim Nhan got two years.

Their trial lasted just a few hours.

They will all also have to serve varying periods of house arrest after their release from prison.

"If Vietnam's courts treat criticism of the government and calls for respect of human rights as national security violations and as defamatory propaganda, then these convictions are manifestly violations of free expression," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Criticising government policies and calling for democracy do not threaten Vietnam's national security," the press freedom organisation added. "We urge the authorities to retry these cases while respecting defence rights, which were blithely violated in these trials."

Article 88 of the criminal code forbids all "propaganda against the Communist system of government" as well as "slanderous allegations undermining national security, the social order and the people's trust in the Party."

In their offending posts, the bloggers had called for more political pluralism and democracy and respect for human rights. They also accused the Vietnamese authorities of failing to stand up to China's territorial claims over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea because they were afraid of offending Beijing.

The trial judges took the position that criticism of human rights violations and lack of democracy necessarily constitute article 88 violations as democracy and respect for human rights already exist in Vietnam.

President Nguyen Minh Triet tried to convince the Vietnamese people and the rest of the world of this when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York on 25 September. Originally scheduled to take place the day before his address, these trials were postponed at the last minute.
US Representative Loretta Sanchez, a Californian Democrat, recently wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "I find it appalling that a country which blatantly acts in disregard to the UN Declaration will be acting as president of the UN Security Council in October."

Clinton said she raised the issue of human rights, especially free expression, when she met with her Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Gia Khiem, on 8 October.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is one of the 12 countries that Reporters Without Borders has identified as Enemies of the Internet. It was ranked 168th out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
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