A Vietnamese reporter has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison by a court in Ho Chi Minh City for “abusing democratic freedoms” through social media posts, a local newspaper reported Tuesday.
Nguyen Hoai Nam had pleaded not guilty and demanded further investigation into his case.
Nam, 49, wrote several articles about wrongdoing by employees of the Vietnam Inland Waterways Administration and provided evidence to authorities during his tenure as a reporter for the Ho Chi Minh City Law newspaper in 2018.
His evidence aided the prosecution of three officials, but Nam claimed that 12 others identified as being involved in bribery went unpunished, Vietnam-based news agency VN Express reported.
He posted his articles on Facebook and criticized authorities’ handling of the case, accusing them of “letting the criminals off the hook.”
Authorities detained Nam on April 3 on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state, lawful rights and interests of organizations and/or citizens,” VN Express reported.
Prosecutors sought a four- to five-year prison sentence for Nam, claiming that his actions “negatively affected social security and order.” But the court said that it granted Nam leniency due to his “good background and having won many merits and awards as a journalist.”
Nam denied prosecutors’ assertion that his Facebook posts had a negative effect on social security and argued that his posts were based on evidence.
“Facebook is a tool to inform the public. I fought for the state, not for any person. I wrote articles with evidence, so it cannot be said that I lied or fabricated things,” he said during his trial.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) last year urged Vietnamese authorities to release Nam and drop all charges against him. It called on the communist-controlled country to “stop jailing journalists on trumped-up anti-state allegations.”
“If Vietnam’s government wants to be viewed internationally as a responsible actor, it must stop treating journalism as a crime, and must stop harassing members of the press over their work,” Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement.
On March 23, independent Vietnamese journalist Le Van Dung was sentenced to five years in prison over posts he made on social media that authorities claimed were “anti-state propaganda.” Dung admitted to posting the videos on his social media accounts but refused to regard them as illegal acts.
Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said on March 22 that the Vietnamese penal code provision on propaganda seeks to intimidate citizens with the threat of being locked up.
“International donors and trade partners of Vietnam should press Hanoi to listen to its critics instead of prosecuting them,” Robertson said.