PARIS, 19 March 2014 (FIDH & VCHR) – FIDH and its member organization, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), strongly condemn the 15-month prison sentence imposed today on blogger Pham Viet Dao. A court in Hanoi sentenced him under Article 258 of the Criminal Code on charges of “abusing democratic freedoms to harm the interests of the State” for posting online articles that “distorted, vilified, and smeared the senior leaders.”
“The imprisonment of Pham Viet Dao once again calls into question the Vietnamese government’s stated commitment to respecting human rights. In fact, Vietnam continues to behave as an authoritarian government that perceives every freedom, including freedom of opinion and expression, as a threat to its rule,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji. “Vietnam must end the harassment, arrest, and imprisonment of dissidents and immediately release the more than 200 political prisoners it holds,” Mr. Lahidji added.
Pham Viet Dao, 62, is a former Inspector in charge of corruption issues in the Ministry of Culture. He is also a member of the Vietnam Writers Union. After his retirement, Pham Viet Dao started an internet blog critical of Vietnamese government leaders and their policies with a focus on the ongoing territorial disputes with China. Pham Viet Dao was arrested on 13 June 2013 at his home in Hanoi. Analysts deemed his arrest, which took place six days before Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang made an official visit to China, as a gesture of friendship to Beijing.
Pham Viet Dao is the latest blogger to be imprisoned under Article 258 of the Criminal Code. On 4 March, a court in Danang sentenced blogger and human rights defender Truong Duy Nhat to two years in prison under the same law for posting articles online that were critical of the government.
“Vietnam currently holds the largest number of political prisoners in Southeast Asia and its press freedom ranking is the lowest in the region,” said VCHR President Vo Van Ai. “The international community must keep the release of political prisoners and the amendment of draconian legislation as its most urgent and pressing issue whenever it interacts with the Vietnamese government,” he urged.
It is estimated that there are over 200 political prisoners behind bars in Vietnam and many more are under house arrest. Those incarcerated include lawyers, bloggers, land rights activists, Buddhist monks, journalists, writers, singers, labor activists, pro-democracy campaigners and members of ethnic and religious minorities, including Buddhist Khmer Krom and Christian Hmong and Montagnards.
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