Vietnam sentences Facebook user to 6.5 years on anti-state charge

A court in Vietnam Thursday sentenced Tran Quoc Khanh, an aspiring political candidate, to 6.5 years in prison for social media video streams critical of the government, the latest conviction aimed at shutting down criticism online of the  one-party communist state, state media reported.

Khanh, 61, was arrested on March 10 and charged with “creating, storing, disseminating and spreading information, materials and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” in accordance with Article 117, Vietnam’s Penal Code. He also received two years’ probation.

Khanh had regularly posted “false and misleading information which causes public confusion and anxiety” on his Facebook account “Tran Quoc Khanh” and his fan-page “Tieng noi Cong dan” (Voice of Citizens), the Cong Ly (Justice) newspaper, mouthpiece for Vietnam Supreme People’s Court, reported Thursday.

In posting 22 livestreamed videos from September 2019 to January 2021, Khanh was “distorting; smearing the authorities; confusing the public; providing an incorrect interpretation about the party’s guidelines and the state’s policies and laws,” according to the procuracy’s indictment.

His videos also constituted “defaming party and state leaders; distorting history and denying the leadership of the Communist Party; and calling for pluralism and a multi-party regime and separation of powers,” the document added, acknowledging that his posts had generated many likes and shares.

Before his arrest, Mr. Khanh announced that he would nominate himself as a candidate for a seat in the National Assembly. Le Trong Hung, another self-nominee for Vietnam’s top legislation body, was also arrested in the same month.

Vietnam has proposed a new decree that would increase government control over livestreaming, a recent report by the South Africa-based CIVICUS CSO said.

Under the terms of the decree, any account that operates on a social media platform in Vietnam and has more than 10,000 followers must provide contact information to authorities. Only registered accounts will be allowed to livestream,” the report said.

Additionally social media sites like Facebook would, under the new law, be required to delete content within 24 hours if a “justified” complaint is submitted by an organization or individual that the content affects, the report said.

Vietnam is ranked 175th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index for 2021.

Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January. Arrests continue in 2021.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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