Vietnam jails dissident for eight years over Facebook posts

HANOI, Nov 18 (Reuters) – A Vietnamese court on Friday jailed a dissident for eight years for anti-state activities after he posted on social media commentary critical of the Communist Party and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite sweeping economic reform and increasing openness to social change, Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party retains tight media censorship and tolerates little criticism. Human Rights Watch said last month there were more than 150 people it classified as political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam.

Bui Van Thuan, an online honey salesman and chemistry teacher, was detained in August last year, days after he posted a comment on Facebook questioning authorities after panic buying ahead of a coronavirus lockdown.

On Friday, he was convicted of conducting propaganda against the state in a two-day trial in the northern province of Thanh Hoa, said his lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh.

Manh declined to comment on the sentence but said he thought the offence should not exist in the penal code.

Thuan will be placed under house arrest for five years after he serves his sentence, Manh said.

Vietnam said last month authorities had tightened regulations to deal with “false” content on social media platforms so that it must be taken down within 24 hours instead of 48 hours previously.

Thuan, 41, regularly posted articles spreading “distorted information to defame Ho Chi Minh and other state and party leaders of Vietnam”, the Ministry of Public Security said after his arrest, referring to Vietnam’s independence hero.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, criticised the trial.

“The Vietnamese government’s baseless prosecution of Bui Van Thuan for Facebook posts demonstrates the extent of its disregard for free expression,” he said before the trial.

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Leigha Motsinger