A Vietnamese court halves the jail term of a professor convicted of publishing anti-state essays.
A Vietnamese court on Tuesday reduced the jail sentence of a French-Vietnamese professor and blogger following an outcry from Paris and the European Union over his imprisonment.
Pham Minh Hoang, 56, will be released on Jan. 13 after serving 17 months in jail of a three-year sentence for “undermining national security” and “ruining the nation’s image” through writings critical of the Vietnamese government.
The dual-nationality mathematician will be required to serve three years under house arrest.
Hoang was arrested by Vietnamese police in August last year for having ties to Viet Tan, a U.S.-based party pushing for reforms in Vietnam, where it is banned. Under Vietnamese law, his pre-trial detention counts towards his sentence.
Viet Tan has been labeled a terrorist group by the country’s Communist Party. Vietnam is ruled by a one-party political system.
Hoang confirmed during his trial in August this year that he had joined Viet Tan in 1998 while he was living as a French citizen in France, where the organization operates legally.
But the court ruled that Hoang had “blackened the image of the country” and aimed to topple the government while writing 33 articles under the pen name Phan Kien Quoc.
Hoang said at the time that the essays, which he voluntarily handed over to police, did not contain any anti-state content and expressed remorse if they had contributed to less public trust in the government.
Viet Tan welcomed the news of Hoang’s sentence reduction in a statement Tuesday, and cited the professor’s family members as saying he had refused to accept exile and insisted on staying in Vietnam upon his release.
Pressure ahead of appeal
Several rights groups called for Hoang’s unconditional release in the lead-up to his appeal trial on Tuesday.
“Vietnamese authorities should immediately release the blogger Pham Minh Hoang and vacate the verdict against him when his case comes up on appeal,” the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement Monday.
“Vietnam keeps its chokehold on free expression by using vaguely-worded national security laws to imprison peaceful activists,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Peaceful activists like Pham Minh Hoang deserve to be heard by their fellow citizens, not silenced by the courts.”
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders urged the court “to quash his conviction,” adding that Hoang was “just expressing his views on subjects of public interest in Vietnam, a right guaranteed by the country’s constitution.”
Hoang left Vietnam to study in France in 1973, but returned to his homeland in 2000 to teach mathematics at the Polytechnic University of Ho Chi Minh City.
He had since written several articles online about education, Vietnamese sovereignty in its relations with China, and environmental pollution associated with Chinese-run bauxite mines in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
In September France said it was “deeply disappointed” that its call for Hoang to be freed under a routine annual amnesty had not been heeded.
Prime Minister Nguyen Tang Dung is believed to have instigated a crackdown on proponents of free speech in Vietnam after being given a new five-year term in office earlier this year.
In July, Vietnamese foreign ministry spokesperson Nguyen Phuong Nga insisted that “all of the basic rights and freedoms figure in the Vietnamese constitution and in the laws that are below it” and “are respected in practice too,” adding that “no one [in Vietnam] is punished for expressing their opinions.”
Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 165th out of 178 countries on its press freedom index and listed the country as an “Enemy of the Internet” in a report issued in March this year.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
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- TỔ CHỨC HRW : Tiếng nói blogger Phạm Minh Hoàng đáng được lắng nghe (saohomsaomai.wordpress.com)