— Phil Robertson (@Reaproy) August 22, 2014
A court has sentenced prominent Vietnamese activist blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang to three years in prison for posing a “serious obstruction to traffic.” Her two other companions, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh and Nguyen Van Minh, received sentences of 2 years and 2.5 years, respectively.
The three were among the 21 arrested last February while riding motorbikes from Ho Chi Minh City to the Dong Thap province, where they planned to visit a lawyer and a former political prisoner. Of the group, however, police charged only the three with violating Article 245 of the criminal code (causing public disorder).
Bui Thi Minh Hang is a known anti-China activist, and also a vocal critic of the government’s policies on land, religion, and human rights. Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh is a fellow activist blogger. Nguyen Van Minh is a Hao-Hao-Buddhist-sect follower and an activist for religious freedom.
After six months of detention, the guilty verdicts came in this week. Many people, as well as friends and relatives, gathered in the Dong Thap province to support the accused on the day of the verdicts, but the police kept the crowd at a distance, arresting anyone who came too close.
On his blog and on Twitter, Ngoc Nhi Nguyen narrated the extreme police measures used to quell the protest outside the court house:
Since early this morning, the police barricaded all entrances to the block where the Court is situated. Anyone trying to get pass would be stopped and asked to be searched and have their ids checked. Anyone taking photos had their phones or cameras confiscated. Many were arrested, put onto waiting police buses and taken away, unsure where to.
This is what the Vietnamese government, a member of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, calls an open trial!!
News from 7.30am: With approx 60 police surrounding the courtroom, cameras are being confiscated, people are being taken away onto buses.
— Viet Tan (@viettan) August 26, 2014
According to reports, police even harassed some of the defendants’ relatives the night before the hearing:
…three groups of activists were locked in their hotels in Dong Thap, many of them are members of the Vietnam Path Movement, No-U Hanoi, No-U Saigon. Five members of the Vietnamese Association of Women for Human Rights were confined to their without food and water. One of them, Nguyen Thi Anh Ngan (Nguyễn Thị Ánh Ngân) had her seven-month old child with her.
— Viet Tan (@viettan) August 25, 2014
Global human rights groups wasted no time condemning the prison sentences and the crackdown outside the courthouse.
Appalled to hear that Bui Thi Minh Hang, Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh, and Nguyen Van Minh were sentenced to a combined total of eight years
— The 88 Project (@The88Project) August 26, 2014
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, railed against Vietnamese authorities for using traffic laws to prosecute the pro-democracy activists:
The Vietnamese government is now resorting to bogus traffic offenses to criminally prosecute activists. The authorities should recognize this case is not worth the international ridicule it will cause and drop the charges immediately.
Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director, called on Vietnam to release all those who were detained by the police:
Today’s verdict appears to be another attempt to punish peaceful activism in Vietnam.
Vietnam should rein in its police and stop attacks on peaceful activists, their families and supporters.
All those imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their human rights should be immediately and unconditionally released.
Even the United States Embassy in Vietnam has issued a statement expressing concern over the guilty verdict handed down to the activist bloggers:
The use of public disorder laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is alarming.
Vietnam is no stranger to criticism about its human rights. The national government has faced criticism for its severe treatment of dissident bloggers in the past. Indeed, this new trial that's put behind bars a prominent activist blogger and an advocate of religious freedom has further emphasized the gloomy state of human rights and free speech in the world's 13th-most-populous country.