HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A Vietnamese court on Wednesday sentenced a dissident blogger to 15 months in prison for posting online criticism of the government, the latest case in an intensifying crackdown against dissent in the one-party communist country.
At a two-hour trial at the Hanoi People's Court, Judge Ngo Tu Hoc said Pham Viet Dao was guilty of "abusing democratic freedoms to infringe the interests of the state" by posting dozens of articles that "distorted, vilified and smeared the senior leaders."
Dao, 61, confessed to the court and apologized for the "erroneous" details in some of his posts, but said he did not do that on purpose. "I don't think that my articles have had bad impact on the society," said Dao, who refused a lawyer and defended himself at the trial.
"The defendant's acts are dangerous to the society, causing anxiety among the public and reducing people's trust in the leadership of the (Communist) Party and the state," the judge said.
Hoc said the court handed down a light sentence because of Dao's "sincere confession," clean criminal record and contribution to the country.
Several Western diplomats and foreign reporters followed the court proceedings via a closed circuit television screen in a separate room.
Dao, a former Cultural Ministry official and member of the Vietnam Writers Association, was arrested at his Hanoi home last June. His membership to the Communist Party was suspended after his arrest.
Earlier this month, a court in the central city of Danang sentenced a well-known blogger, Truong Duy Nhat, to two years in jail on the same charges.
New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement Tuesday calling for Dao's "immediate and unconditional" release.
"The Vietnamese authorities are shaming themselves before domestic and international public opinion by staging yet another political trial of a peaceful critic," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Pham Viet Dao's only crime has been to use the Internet to voice opinions shared by many Vietnamese, outside and inside government."
Human Rights Watch says that the number of people sentenced in political trials in Vietnam has increased every year since 2010, and that at least 63 people were imprisoned for peaceful political expression last year.