Vietnamese authorities continue to crackdown on free speech. The latest victim is activist blogger Nguyen Van Hoa. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for allegedly “conducting propaganda against the state,” by producing videos and blogging in protest of the government’s handling of a devastating toxic waste spill in 2016.
Hoa’s trial lasted a mere two-and-a-half hours, and he had no attorney to represent him. In addition to the seven year sentence, the court ruled that he be placed under house arrest for three years after his jail term is complete.
In April 2016, the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics released toxic chemicals from its massive steel plant located at the deep-water port in Ha Tinh. The Formosa spill killed an estimated 115 tons of fish and left fishermen and tourism industry workers jobless in four central provinces. The company pledged $500 million to clean up and compensate people affected by the spill, but the government has faced protests over the amount of the settlement and the slow pace of payouts.
Hoa was the first person to broadcast live footage of protests outside the company’s steel plant in Ha Tinh using a flycam drone. Last October, his footage of more than 10,000 peaceful protesters went viral.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, denounced the verdict: “The sentencing of Nguyen Van Hoa shows how profoundly the government’s paranoid desire to maintain political control trumps notions of justice and human rights,” he said.
He added: “How else can one explain that executives of an international firm that poisoned the ocean, ruining the coastal economy in four provinces, are free to go about their business while this idealistic young journalist is heading to prison for helping expose their misdeeds?”
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert has said “the trend of increased arrests and convictions [in Vietnam] of peaceful protests since early 2016 is deeply troubling."
The United States calls on Vietnam to release Nguyen Van Hoa, Mother Mushroom, and all other prisoners of conscience and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without fear of retribution.