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Vietnam activist jailed for Facebook posts

29 October 2013, 07:36

Hanoi - A young Vietnamese activist went on trial on Tuesday for "abusing democratic freedoms" with a series of angry Facebook posts, in an escalation of the communist regime's crackdown on online dissent.

Dinh Nhat Uy, aged 30, appeared in court in the southern province of Long An on charges related to an Internet campaign against his brother's imprisonment for spreading anti-government propaganda.

"He is accused under article 258 of the penal code of having abused democratic freedoms against the interests of the state," Uy's lawyer Ha Huy Son told AFP.

The charge, regularly used by authoritarian Vietnam to silence dissidents and activists, carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

Vietnam, branded an "enemy of the Internet" by Reporters Without Borders, is a one-party state that bans private media and controls all newspapers and television channels.

According to Uy's indictment (a copy of which was posted online on the banned but popular blog Dan Lam Bao) he is charged solely for Facebook postings.

Usually, charges for dissidents and activists relate to blog postings and Uy's case is apparently the first time a Vietnamese activist has gone on trial only for comments made on social media.

In June Uy's brother Kha was sentenced to eight years in prison, reduced to four years on appeal for anti-government propaganda.

His co-defendant, Nguyen Phuong Uyen, was sentenced to six years in jail but freed on appeal after widespread public disapproval over the harsh sentence for the 21-year-old, who was shown hugging a teddy bear in photographs posted online.

After his brother's trial Uy began campaigning for his release online.

The indictment said Uy "posted bad and false information about the state, organisations and individuals".

"Those above-mentioned images and articles were seen and read by many people. Many people shared, pressed 'like', and gave comments, of which many comments smeared and insulted the state, organisations and citizens," it added.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (which called for Uy's immediate release) noted that at least 61 activists and dissidents have been jailed this year, up from roughly 40 in 2012.

"Vietnam has significantly intensified its repressive tactics against peaceful activists, pursuing what is essentially a scorched earth policy against prominent public dissidents," HRW's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.

Vietnam recently introduced a sweeping new Internet law that bans bloggers and social media users from sharing news stories online, in a move seen as a further crackdown on online freedom.

However, Uy has not been charged under the new legislation and it remains unclear how it will be implemented.


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