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Vietnam 10 September 2008

Blogger gets two and a half years in prison after “unfair and unfounded” conviction on tax fraud charge


Blogger Nguyen Hoang Hai, better known by the pseudonym of Dieu Cay, was sentenced today by a Ho Chi Minh City court to two and a half years in prison for “tax fraud.” Foreign journalists were not allowed into the courtroom during the trial.

“This sentence shows how dependent Vietnam’s judicial system is on the government,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The tax fraud charge was trumped up in order to silence Dieu Cay, who was regarded as overly critical of the government. We condemn this conviction as completely unfair and unfounded.”

One of the blogger’s lawyers told Reporters Without Borders he regarded the sentence as very severe, especially as he demonstrated during the trial that the police had failed to respect standard procedure.

“Dieu Cay was arrested before the authorities had even established the monetary value of the alleged fraud,” he said. “In this kind of case, the person accused of fraud is first asked to pay the fine. He is only arrested if he cannot produce the money. But Dieu Cay was never asked to pay. I questioned the role of the police in court. The judge reprimanded me for criticising the authorities. This conviction is disgrace.”

He added that the trial was a “grotesque performance” because the sentence was decided in advance and the court spectators consisted of “extras” who were installed there well before the start of the trial. He said he would appeal within 10 days.

No explanation was given when Dieu Cay was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City on 19 April. The tax fraud charge was brought five days later. According to his son, Dieu Cay had been under close police surveillance since taking part in demonstrations in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of this year in protest against China’s claim to sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

The police are harassing his family and his property has been seized.

09.09 - Judges asked to show clemency to detained cyber-dissident being tried on “tax fraud” charge

“You know, there are four kinds of people in Vietnam, those who know nothing and say nothing, those who do know and yet say nothing, those who know too much and are afraid to talk, and those who know, who speak out, and who pay the price.” - Nguyen Tri Dung, the son detained blogger Dieu Cay, in an interview for a foreign journalist who does not want to be identified.

Reporters Without Borders urges the judicial authorities not to impose a jail sentence on Ngyuen Hoang Hai, better known by his blog name of Dieu Cay, when he is tried tomorrow before a Ho Chi Minh City court on a charge of tax fraud. His family is being harassed and his property had been seized.

“Dieu Cay’s trial is an important test for the credibility of Vietnam’s judicial system,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Will it recognise that the charge is baseless? The Vietnamese constitution protects free expression but the Communist Party tolerates no criticism. We call on the judges to side with the law and to acquit this cyber-dissident.”

(JPEG) No explanation was given when Dieu Cay was arrested on 19 April in the southern town of Dalat. He was charged with tax fraud two days later, and police searched his home on 24 April. He had been under close police surveillance since taking part in protests against China’s claim to sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel Islands that took place in Ho Chi Minh City at the start of this year.

The authorities claim that he has not paid any taxes for the past ten years on the place where he lives. In fact, he rented the premises from Hanoi Eyewear Co. under an arrangement allowed by the law in which the company assumes responsibility for paying the taxes.

Dieu Cay blog (PNG) He posted articles on his blog about the protests that had been staged during the Olympic torch relay in cities around the world including Ho Chi Minh City. The Vietnamese authorities had reacted by threatening to let Chinese agents kill him.

Last year, Dieu Cay founded a group of bloggers called the Free Vietnamese Journalists Club to focus mainly on two subjects - corruption and human rights. Some of its members have been threatened and arrested on several occasions. One, who does not want to be named, was fired from his job at the government’s request and fears he could be arrested on a charge of “divulging information abroad with the aim of overthrowing the government” for giving interviews to foreign news media.

In an interview for a foreign journalist, Dieu Cay’s son, Nguyen Tri Dung, said the police were constantly harassing the family. “The police summon us for questioning all the time,” he said. “People are always following us (...) I’ve seen them so often that I know that what’s going on is not normal. We have two houses which they have closed so we can no longer rent them, but they belong to us.”

The son added: “The police also went to see our neighbours and told them my father was working for bad people. My father criticised certain people who want to hold on power and who treat people badly. These people accused him of betraying the country.”

 (PNG) Nine cyber-dissidents are currently detained in Vietnam, which is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Internet Enemies.” Its Internet management policies seem to be based on the Chinese model.

In this country
20 February - Vietnam
Government frees cyber-dissident while keeping online activities under strict control
19 January - Vietnam
Government announces early release of journalist Nguyen Viet Chien
5 December - Vietnam
Leading blogger’s conviction upheld on appeal
15 October - Vietnam
Newspaper reporter’s two-year sentence deals severe blow to press freedom
19 August - Vietnam
No news of Ho Chi Minh City blogger held for past four months on spurious charge

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