Phạm Viết Đào, 62, on Wednesday became the latest blogger in Vietnam to receive a jail term for criticizing the government, as Hanoi continues an increasing crackdown against online dissident.
After a two-hour trial at the Hanoi People’s Court, Đào was sentenced to 15 months in prison for “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the interests of the state” under Article 258 of the penal code.
His blog posts allegedly “distorted” and “vilified” senior leaders. Đào was a former official for the Ministry of Culture and long-standing member of the Vietnamese Communist Party. He chose to represent himself in court.
On the day of his trial many activists expressed their support for the blogger on Facebook. Among them was 23-year-old Trinh Kim Tien, a prominent campaigner against police violence in Vietnam. She posted a photograph of herself with Đào during an anti-China demonstration in 2011.
She said Dao wrote on politics and a variety of human rights issues in Vietnam and was very influential. She said he was well known among anti-China protesters because his younger brother was killed during the 1979 border war with China.
Anti-China protesters have increasingly used Facebook and blogs to discuss Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, which overlap with Vietnam’s own claims. The issue is very sensitive for the Vietnamese government, which has strong trade ties with China. Stories on the dispute are censored in official media.
Đào was one of three bloggers arrested in mid-2013. Former journalist Truong Duy Nhat was jailed for two years earlier this month and Dinh Nhat Uy was given a 15-month suspended sentence.
Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, said the treatment of the bloggers was like a “processing line.”
“They have decided they want to run these people in and they are just lining them up and knocking them down. They are treating these dissidents like bowling pins,” said Robertson.
All three men were charged under Article 258, which Human Rights Watch describes as a “vague provision” that has “routinely been used to imprison people for peaceful criticism of official policies and practices.”
Robertson said it is a tactic intended to suppress government criticism.
“This is all about trying to essentially smash the communication and information of this group of activists who are continuing to press the government on everything related to land, human rights to corruption,” he said.
According to Human Rights Watch, Vietnam convicted and jailed 61 dissidents and activists in 2013, compared to about 40 a year earlier. The Vietnamese government claims it only jails people who break the law, and that there are no political prisoners in the country.