A 24-year-old student blogger is the latest activist to be jailed, as the government continues a harsh crackdown on freedom of expression.
Phan Kim Khanh was sentenced to six years in prison, followed by four years on probation, on a charge of spreading propaganda against the state.
Police moved to break up a small crowd of Khanh’s supporters who attempted to gather outside the court. His lawyer described the brief morning trial as biased.
Dissidents have come to expect harsh and cursory treatment from the authorities following the arrest of some 28 government critics in a year. Many are held incommunicado for long periods before receiving long prison sentences in abbreviated trials.
Khanh was arrested in March after antagonising the government with two blogs he ran while studying at Thai Nguyen University north of Hanoi – one of which highlighted allegations of official corruption.
He was accused by state prosecutors of “continuously publishing information with fabricated and distorted contents that aim to oppose the Socialist Republic of Vietnam; most of these contents were taken from other reactionary websites.”
Human Rights Watch has condemned Khanh’s prosecution and called on participants at next month’s APEC summit in Vietnam to put pressure on the government.
“The only crime Phan Kim Khanh committed was to express political views disapproved by the authorities,” said Brad Adams of HRW.
“Students should be encouraged to write about social and political problems—not punished. International donors and trade partners need to step up pressure on the country’s leaders to improve its abysmal rights record,” he added.
Khanh comes from a poor rural family and was respected for his academic achievements and the leadership role in took in promoting freedom of expression.
He had questioned why so many Vietnamese still lived in poverty and raised concerns about the Communist party’s commitment to raising living standards.