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.