UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Tuesday expressed her deep concern and dismay over the conviction and harsh sentencing of three dissident bloggers in Vietnam a day earlier on charges of spreading anti-government propaganda.
Pillay noted that the jailing of the bloggers reflected a trend of increasing restrictions on freedom of expression in the South Asian country, especially against those who use the internet to voice criticisms of the state.
"The harsh prison terms handed down to bloggers exemplify the severe restrictions on freedom of expression in Vietnam," Pillay said in a news release issued Tuesday.
On Monday, a Vietnamese court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced three prominent dissident bloggers to prolonged prison terms under article 88 of the penal code for "conducting propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" by posting articles on the website of the Vietnamese Club of Free Journalists.
In a trial that lasted just a few hours, Nguyen Van Hai was given 12 years' jail, while Ta Phong Tan, whose mother burnt herself to death in July after police harassed her family, received ten years. The other blogger Phan Thanh Hai was sentenced to four years. Nguyen's case had been raised by US President Barack Obama during a speech to mark World Press Freedom Day in last May.
Jailing of the three bloggers comes amid crackdowns on political blogs ordered by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. People are increasingly using Internet to expose corruption and nepotism by the ruling Communist party and to express their resentment at the state of affairs in the South-East Asian country, where the press is controlled by the state.
Hundreds of police surrounded the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City on Monday morning to prevent supporters of the convicts from approaching the court. Seven people were arrested before the trial started and mobile phones were barred from the court premises.
Pillay said in a statement that the court's quick decision after only a few hours of deliberation raises questions about the defendants' right to due process and a fair trial, and expressed concern about reports that several supporters were detained and prevented from attending the trial.
In 2009, during the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Vietnam's human rights record, the State had accepted a number of recommendations on freedom of expression, including one to "fully guarantee the right to receive, seek and impart information and ideas in compliance with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
Pillay said the verdicts are "an unfortunate development that undermines the commitments Vietnam has made internationally, including during the UPR, to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression."
Incidentally, the United States had demanded the immediate release of three jailed Vietnamese dissident bloggers on Monday. US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a statement that Washington was "deeply troubled" by the convictions of three Vietnamese bloggers, who she said appeared "to have done nothing more than exercise their right to freedom of expression."
by RTT Staff Writer
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