Activists in Vietnam land dispute jailed for criticising government on social media

PHOTO: Facebook/Trinh Thi Thao

Two Vietnamese activists have been jailed for social media content about a violent clash with the authorities that resulted in the deaths of 4 people. According to an AFP report, violence broke out as activist villagers were protesting plans to build a military airport on their land.

Officials were trying to erect a fence at Dong Tam commune on the outskirts of Hanoi in January 2020, when they were confronted by villagers armed with “grenades, petrol bombs and knives”. 3 police officers and a villager were killed in the clash.

Yesterday, a court in the Vietnamese capital sentenced to Trinh Ba Phuong 10 years and Nguyen Thi Tam to 6 years for posting about the clash on Facebook. The pair were found guilty of, “making, storing, distributing or propagating information and documents aimed at opposing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam”.

The government-controlled Vietnam News Agency says the social media content posted by the activists “distorted and fabricated the situation taking place in Dong Tam commune, defamed the people’s government, incited people to oppose the authorities”. The authorities in Vietnam adopt a zero-tolerance policy to social media content that criticises the government.

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In May, Phuong’s mother and brother were also given prison sentences, with each receiving 8 years for posting about the event. They have appealed and the hearing is scheduled for this month. In September last year, 2 men found guilty of killing the 3 police officers were sentenced to death by a Hanoi court . Another 27 people have also been convicted.

AFP reports that disputes over land are a frequent occurrence in Vietnam, as people and organisations with power and money make land grabs. Yesterday’s sentencing of Phuong and Tam comes a day after Pham Doan Trang, a prominent journalist who campaigns for press freedom and civil liberties, was jailed for 9 years.

Both the British and American governments have condemned the conviction, with US State Department spokesman Ned Price issuing a statement calling for her to be freed.

“The United States calls on the Vietnamese government to release Trang and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and without fear of retaliation.”


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