Vietnamese authorities continue and widen their crackdown on freedom of expression against ordinary citizens even though they do not engage in any grassroots activism or political movements. On October 31, 2019, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu District, Can Tho City, sentenced Mr. Pham Xuan Hao (54 years old) to 12 months in prison for “abusing democratic rights and freedoms to infringe upon state interests” in accordance with Article 331 of the 2015 Criminal Code, which is often used to silence constructive criticism in Vietnam.
Mr. Hao appears to be an intellectual with a solid career and credentials. He is an architect, obtained a master’s degree, and has spent most of his life working as a lecturer at the Technology Faculty of the University of Can Tho, one of the major universities in southern Vietnam.
At the trial, the Court accused him of being an expert and having high social awareness but still using Facebook to “publish pessimistic information about Vietnam that negatively affects netizens and the public.” The judges also asserted that he has tried to libel the policies of the Party and the State.
This is not the only case the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu District has addressed concerning the right to freedom of expression of its local residents. On September 24, 2018, the Court sentenced Mr. Doan Khanh Vinh Quang two years and three months of imprisonment with the same accusation as lecturer Hao. And on June 13, 2019, Mr. Quach Nguyen Anh Khoa was also imprisoned for six months by the same Court. According to our research, their online posts are mere peaceful expressions on socio-political matters; most of them only criticized public policies such as the draft of Law on Special Economic Zones, the costly development of Long Thanh Airport, and the lack of infrastructure investment in southwest Vietnam.
So far in 2019, there are 53 cases of harassments and 21 arrests, of which 12 are online commentators. Mr. Hao is the 13th individual persecuted this year for peaceful online political comments.
© 2019 The 88 Project