A Vietnamese court today sentenced independent blogger Dinh Nhat Uy to a 15-month suspended prison term and one year of house arrest in connection with his posts on Facebook, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the verdict and calls on Vietnamese authorities to end their escalating campaign of harassment against independent bloggers.
In a one-day trial, a Long An province court ruled that Uy's use of Facebook to campaign for his brother's release from prison on anti-state propaganda charges was in breach of Article 258 in the criminal code, a vague charge that bans "abusing democratic freedoms." News reports said Uy's conviction was the first against a blogger or dissident specifically for using Facebook. Most independent bloggers in Vietnam use Facebook as their blogging platform.
A new decree for governing the Internet that came into effect on September 1 restricts the types of content that foreign companies are allowed to host on their Vietnam-related websites or social media platforms.
Uy had been calling for the release of his brother, Dinh Nguyen Kha, a computer technician, who was sentenced in June to eight years in prison--reduced to four years on appeal--for anti-government propaganda.
Uy had faced a potential seven years in prison under the charges. Agence France-Presse reported that suspended prison sentences in Vietnam generally entail severe restrictions on the individual's movements, with requirements to check in regularly with police.
Uy was first arrested on June 15 for "compiling and publishing distorted and untrue articles and pictures on his blog, tarnishing the prestige of state bodies," according to state-run news reports. Computers, phones, flash drives, books, and laptops were confiscated from his home, reports said. He had been summoned by the police several times since his brother was arrested.
"While blogger Dinh Nhat Uy's sentencing today was lighter than the punishment handed down to other critical bloggers, it will necessarily have a chilling effect on all bloggers who use Facebook as their preferred platform," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "Vietnamese authorities should stop harassing bloggers and scrap all laws that restrict online reporting and commentary."
It was not immediately clear if authorities intended to hold Facebook accountable for the materials, now ruled illegal, that Uy posted to his Facebook page.
Two other prominent bloggers, Pham Viet Dao and Truong Duy Nhat, were arrested respectively in May and June on accusations related to Article 258. They are currently under investigation and are being held in pre-trial detention.
All but one of the 14 reporters jailed at the time of CPJ's 2012 prison census published blogs or worked predominantly online.