On August 16, the Hanoi People’s High Court held an appeals hearing for Le Van Dung, a citizen journalist and online commentator, who was previously charged and convicted of “distributing anti-State propaganda” under Article 88 of Vietnam’s former 1999 Penal Code. The court later rejected the appeals made by Dung, upholding his five-year imprisonment and five-year probation sentence.
According to the indictment, Le Van Dung, also known as Le Dung Vova, had created and published videos on social media, which were found to have offended “the honor and prestige” of the ruling Communist Party and state leaders, Reuters reported. Dung and his lawyers argued that he only practiced the right to freedom of speech enshrined in Vietnam’s Constitution.
As a citizen journalist, Dung was known for his reporting on the violence used by Vietnamese authorities against local farmers involved in land conflicts, as well as his independent investigation into the environmental disaster caused by the Taiwan-based Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Co., which discharged toxic wastewater into the sea and consequently caused mass death of sea life in central Vietnam.
At the same time, Le Dung Vova owned a Youtube channel called “Chan Hung Nuoc Viet TV” (Reinvigorating Vietnam Television), where he regularly posted videos and hosted talk shows discussing various social and political issues in Vietnam. He also self-nominated as an independent candidate for Vietnam’s 2021 National Assembly elections but was eventually disqualified by the authorities.
Bui Thi Hue, Dung’s wife, told RFA in an interview that she was not allowed to enter the courtroom. Hue added that she had to leave her home the previous day since security agents were guarding both ends of the alley where she lived. The Hanoi court declared that the trial would be a public one.
“When I arrived at the court gate around 7 a.m., I saw the mobile police force guarding outside. When I [said] I wanted to go in, [the police] claimed that I could not enter without an invitation or a summons,” Hue said. “When the trial started, the security forces were ordered to chase me out of the court gate area.”
Meanwhile, the Dak Lak Provincial People’s Court, on the same day, August 16, held another appeal hearing for Y Wo Nie, a Rhade ethnic minority activist advocating for religious freedom, upholding his earlier conviction of four years in jail on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the State and individuals’ legitimate rights” under Article 331 of Vietnam’s 2015 Penal Code, according to his defense lawyer, attorney Nguyen Van Mieng.
The indictment stated that the Rhade activist “collected distorted and false information” and “wrote three reports on religious freedom violations [in Vietnam]” to send to “reactionary figures abroad.” These reports were said to be sent to the UN Human Rights Council and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Nie was also accused of meeting representatives from the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Vietnam during their visits to Gia Lai Province in June 2020.
In an interview with RFA, attorney Mieng said that “there were no witnesses or judicial supervisors” during the hearing. “There were only the defendant, his lawyer, and a Rhade language translator in the courtroom,” he added.
It was reported that Nie’s wife, his daughter, and around 100 Rhade ethnic minority supporters gathered in the court’s front yard during his trial since they were not allowed to enter the courtroom.