A Vietnam court on Wednesday handed down prison sentences for a prominent blogger and his assistant for publishing articles critical of the government.
Nguyen Huu Vinh, 60, and Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, 35, were sentenced to five and three years respectively for "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state," under Article 258 of the Penal Code. Both had been detained since their arrests in 2014.
Prosecutors said a series of articles Vinh posted on his blog gave a distorted, one-sided view of the ruling Communist Party that would affect the people's confidence in its leaders.
Tran Quoc Thuan, one of Vinh’s attorneys, told VOA's Vietnamese service that the trial in Hanoi was "extremely abnormal" and "shocked the lawyers."
"We’ve pointed out that there were serious violations" in the proceedings, from Vinh's arrest to the investigation of his case, Thuan said. "In one example, Lieutenant General Hoang Kong Tu, head of the investigation agency whose name was in the list of 'victims,' was the one who headed the investigation process.
"There were violations in the process of collecting evidence," he added. "Evidence presented was illegal and the accusations were groundless. According to the laws, a verdict is based on what is stated in the indictment and what has been debated at the trial. Here in this case, there were some extra [charges] added to the verdict by the judge himself. A verdict based on those abnormalities is abnormal."
Representatives from foreign embassies were not allowed to enter the courtroom, although the trial was listed as public, which Thuan described as a "contrast it is between theory and reality when it comes to Vietnam’s human rights."
Vinh, also known as Anh Ba Sam, created the blog "Ba Sam" in 2007. The blog provided links to stories from state-run news outlets, as well as blog posts from activists.
Prior to sentencing, dozens of Vinh's supporters gathered outside the courthouse in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi to demand his release. Blogger Nguyen Lan Thang, a well-known social activist campaigning for the removal of Article 258, was among the crowd.
"Today's trial was just like many other dissidents’ trials. There was harassment preventing people from attending the so-called public trial; some people were arrested; protesters were extremely outraged with the verdict," he said. "We are very upset with the behavior of the Vietnamese authorities. They view us as enemies and make every attempt to repress us, from physical assaults to imprisonment. Today’s verdict is one of the injustices we are suffering and we will continue to press our fight for basic rights."
Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights, called the verdict "all the more concerning because it could signal a new wave of repression as new party leaders assume control."
Human rights groups have criticized Vietnam for arbitrarily arresting bloggers and activists for peacefully expressing their views.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Vietnamese Service.