This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
A 60-year old Vietnamese activist was sentenced to six years in prison for making a short drunken tirade video that cursed the Communist Party and revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, the country’s first leader, his lawyer told Radio Free Asia.
The Hanoi People’s Court handed down the punishment Friday to Nguyen Minh Son, saying that the video he made on Dec. 31, 2021, was “anti-state propaganda.”
In the live-streamed video, Son stood outside the same court, reacting the trial of activist and citizen journalist Le Trong Hung, who that day had gotten five years for violating Article 117, a vaguely-written law that is frequently used by authorities to stifle peaceful critics of the country’s one-party communist government.
Almost 10 months later, Son found himself under arrest under the same charge.
His lawyer, Ngo Anh Tuan, said that Son was drunk at the time and admitted that he had acknowledged making mistakes.
“Mr. Son admitted all his acts, saying that he had made mistakes,” Tuan told RFA Vietnamese. “He was accused of making a video clip, only one clip, which he live-streamed and disseminated online.”
Tuan said the jail term was too harsh considering that his client had only made one video.
He said that he had tried to help lower the penalty for his client by requesting the judging panel to look at his case from another angle, but his request was rejected.
“I presented my analysis and judgment, recommending that his act be handled in a more appropriate way, and it could be an administrative penalty,” Tuan said.
Pleading for mercy
Son had been an active participant in many demonstrations in Hanoi between 2011 and 2018 over issues ranging from China’s claims to territories in the South China Sea, to the Hanoi city government cutting down ancient trees located downtown. He also frequently expressed his views on Vietnam’s social issues using his Facebook account.
According to Son’s friend, his arrest on Sept. 28, 2022, was surprising because so much time had passed since he had been involved in any protests.
When Son was allowed to say a few words at the end of the trial, he apologized, expressing his regret and requesting for a penalty mitigation, Tuan said, adding that he was not sure whether Son would make an appeal or not.
Son’s wife Nguyen Thi Phuoc told RFA that she was prevented from attending the trial. Security guards would not allow her to enter the courtroom until nearly noon after the trial had ended, she said. She only saw her husband the moment the police were escorting him to leave the courtroom.
No freedom of speech
Vietnam is a one-party Communist state that clamps down harshly on those who criticize the government.
In another similar case, police on Friday in the southern province of Binh Duong detained Tran Dac Than on charges of using his social media accounts to create posts and share articles that “abused democratic freedoms to violate the state’s interests or the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals,” in violation of Article 331 of Vietnam’s penal code.
Rights groups have said that Article 331, like Article 117, is often employed by the government to silence dissenting voices and repress the people.
According to state media reports that cited the police, the government had summoned Than to warn him about similar acts in 2013.
Vietnam has arrested at least 18 people and convicted nine for violating Article 331 since January this year, according to RFA’s statistics.