The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court confirmed the September verdict and sentencing of Nguyen Hoang Hai, who uses the weblog name Dieu Cay and is a member of the online Free Vietnamese Journalists Club.
“After several hours of debate with his lawyers, the court upheld the first instance sentence of two-and-a-half years imprisonment for Nguyen Hoang Hai on the charge of tax fraud,” court official Phan Tanh told AFP.
Hai — who has taken part in anti-Beijing demonstrations about a sensitive sea territory dispute with China — was arrested in April, days before the Olympic torch passed through the southern city, formerly called Saigon.
“The authorities are trying to silence this blogger,” said media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a statement before the hearing.
“Dieu Cay should be freed at once,” said the Paris-based group which has called the weblog writer a “cyber-dissident.”
“We call on the foreign embassies in Vietnam to defend free expression by urging the Vietnamese government to release him.”
RSF said that, according to Hai’s son, he had been under close police surveillance since joining street demonstrations early this year against China’s claim over the Spratly and Paracel Islands.
The protests backed the government stance that the islands belong to Vietnam, but they also embarrassed the leadership which received a stern rebuke from China for allowing the rare street protests to take place.
“The police are harassing his family, his property has been seized and close colleagues have been threatened and arrested,” the RSF said.
Vietnam will issue new rules against “incorrect information” on blogs this month, state media reports said this week, quoting government officials.
The regulations aim “to create a legal base for bloggers and related agencies to tackle violations in the area of blogging,” said Information and Communication Deputy Minister Do Quy Doan, according to the Thanh Nien daily.
The ministry “will contact Google and Yahoo! for cooperation in creating the best and the healthiest environment for bloggers,” he reportedly added.