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Vietnam Jails Freelance Journalist for Six Years

FILE - Vietnamese Internet activist Nguyen Lan Thang chats on Facebook at a cafe in Hanoi Nov. 27, 2013.
FILE - Vietnamese Internet activist Nguyen Lan Thang chats on Facebook at a cafe in Hanoi Nov. 27, 2013.

A prominent Vietnamese journalist who documented protests and human rights violations in the communist-run country was sentenced to six years in jail Wednesday, his lawyer said.

Nguyen Lan Thang, an activist and freelance writer who is well-known in Vietnam for his criticism of the government, was convicted of spreading "anti-state propaganda" in the one-day, rare closed-door trial in Hanoi.

His lawyer, Nguyen Ha Luan, told AFP that the journalist — who was a contributor to Radio Free Asia Vietnamese blog — had also been sentenced to two years’ probation.

Vietnam has strict curbs on freedom of expression and the government moves swiftly to stamp out dissent and arrest critics, especially those who find an audience online. Independent media is banned.

Thang, 47, was arrested at his home in Hanoi in July last year and has been denied regular family visits since then, according to his relatives.

His wife, Le Bich Vuong, wrote on Facebook that she was "shocked" by the sentence.

"I had hoped for his freedom because what my husband has been doing is positive, they are good deeds," she said.

Born into a well-known family, Thang reported on a range of issues, defending human rights and freedom of religion, and supporting land rights petitioners.

He traveled to sites of forced land confiscation to film the authorities' use of excessive force and also participated in many pro-environment protests, according to Human Rights Watch.

Thang wrote more than 130 blog entries, the rights group said, quoting him as saying that he wanted to "help expose and demythologize things for common people, so they dare to stand up and demand their rights".

In an open letter to judges in the case, Thang's parents wrote that their son was a "patriot."

"We believe ... speaking out against inadequacies and injustice, and standing for vulnerable people, is not a 'crime against the government,’" they wrote.

Prior to the verdict, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns Ming Yu Hah called for the charges to be dropped.

"Nguyen Lan Thang's trial shows that the Vietnamese authorities are silencing those producing content deemed 'unfavorable' as they seek to ensure subservience to the state,” she said. "His lack of adequate access to a lawyer and family visits are a further stain on a deeply flawed and unfair trial."

The sentencing comes more than a year after Pham Doan Trang, a high-profile dissident journalist, was given nine years behind bars in the authoritarian state.

Most recently, in March, activist Truong Van Dung was sentenced to six years in prison, also for spreading "anti-state propaganda."