Vietnamese democracy activist Huynh Truong Ca was sentenced on Friday by a court in southern Vietnam’s Dong Thap province to a five-year, six-month prison term for criticizing the country’s communist government in a series of online postings, state media and other sources said.
A member of the Hien Phap Group, a network of activists calling for rights to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed by Vietnam’s constitution, Ca was arrested in September after calling on social media for public protests, sources said.
Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service, Hien Phap Group member Nguyen Uyen Thuy said that family members attending Ca’s trial told her that Ca had defended his call for protests, saying that he had acted “out of patriotism, and from his heart.”
Ca refused to be represented at trial by a defense attorney, asserting his innocence and the right to defend himself, Thuy said, speaking to RFA from Thailand, where she has applied for refugee status after fleeing Vietnam ahead of arrest by police.
Eleven other members of the group—which was formed on June 16, 2017, to promote a better understanding in Vietnam of political rights and freedoms, including the right to protest, promised under Article 25 of the country’s constitution—have already been arrested, sources say.
Hien Phap played a major role in calling for widespread protests that rocked Vietnamese cities in June in opposition to a proposed cyber security law and a law granting concessions of land to Chinese businesses, group members say.
“Ca told the court that as a patriot, he could not accept the Special Economic Zones Bill, which would throw open Vietnam’s borders to an influx of Chinese,” Thuy told RFA on Friday.
Family members were allowed to observe Ca’s trial but were not permitted to bring mobile phones or other digital devices into the building, Thuy said.
Meanwhile, also speaking to RFA, the wife of a Vietnamese citizen active on Facebook who disappeared in police custody in September said that she is now able to send her husband food and money for necessities, though they are not allowed to meet.
Ngo Van Dung, a resident of Buon Me Thuot city in the central highlands province of Dak Lak, vanished on Sept. 4 and is now being held at a Police Detention Center in Ho Chi Minh City, also called Saigon, sources say.
“I can send him food twice a month—meat, peanuts, biscuits, and money to buy what he needs,” Dung’s wife Kim Nga said.
“I don’t have any further information [on his case], though, as an investigation is still going on,” she said.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of which 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated “not free” in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.