Vietnam is set to open the trial of online activist Truong Duy Nhat on charges of violating the country's controversial new Article 258, which provides criminal penalties for "abusing freedoms to infringe upon the state's interests."
Nhat is one of several bloggers to face trial in the past few months as Vietnamese authorities continue a crackdown on activists. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
Tran Vu Hai, Truong Duy Nhat’s lawyer, says in an interview with VOA’s Vietnamese Service that his client is eager to go to court to present his arguments.
“He said he had used the rights of a normal citizen such as freedom of speech to criticize the state and its leaders," he said. "Vietnam’s constitution writes that people have rights to supervise the [Communist] Party and the state, and one part of that activity is to assess and to be critical of the state in a constructive manner.”
Hai said Nhat has urged domestic and foreign reporters as well as intellectuals to attend the trial to witness what is going on.
Vietnam's government has not commented on Nhat's upcoming trial.
Nguyen Lan Thang from Network of Vietnamese Bloggers says the government can’t continue to lock people up this way without consequences.
“With predetermined sentences and all the political contrivances, those fighting for rights and justice in this country are the ones who suffer loss. Bringing blogger Duy Nhat to trial is unacceptable and an injustice, and many of his supporters in Vietnam are watching his trial very closely,” he said.
Nhat has often criticized the government in Hanoi and raised concerns about China’s claims to maritime territory off the Vietnamese coast. He has also called for the resignation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and others, accusing them of being responsible for what he described as Vietnam’s “uncontrolled corruption.”
Phil Robertson, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, says the trial demonstrates there is no decrease in Vietnam's determination to target people for peaceful criticism.
He says, “This shows that the Vietnamese government are doubling their efforts to clamp down on any sort of freedom expression. ... His trial is part of the Vietnamese government's ongoing and frankly futile efforts to silence an increasingly strong community of Vietnamese bloggers. All this will do is create another political prisoner. The government should release him and all others who are jailed merely for disagreeing with the government and the party.”
Blogger Dinh Nhat Uy was given a suspended 15 month prison sentence when he became the first blogger to be convicted under Article 258 last year. Several other online activists have gone on trial since then.
Human Rights Watch reports 61 Vietnamese dissidents and activists were convicted and sentenced to prison in 2013, compared to about 40 such convictions a year earlier.
Trung Nguyen also contributed to this report. This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.