Vietnam upholds former police officer’s 2-year sentence over traffic spat

An appellate court in Vietnam upheld the two-year sentence of a former policeman arrested last year for “resisting officers on official duty” during a traffic spat.

Le Chi Thanh was once an officer at Han Tan Prison in the southern coastal province of Binh Thuan. He was fired in July 2020 after he accused his supervisor of corruption. Afterwards he became an active social media user, often livestreaming videos that monitored traffic police.

Police in Ho Chi Minh City impounded his car on March 2, 2021, for occupying a lane reserved for two-wheeled vehicles. He argued with the police and recorded and live streamed the exchange.

He was arrested on April 14, 2021, for his actions on March 2.

The Ho Chi Minh City High-level People’s Court upheld the two-year sentence Thanh received in January.

Thanh’s lawyer, Dang Dinh Manh, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that he presented new evidence — medals and certificates Thanh received while he was a police officer — during the appellate trial.

“The prosecution side accepted the medals as mitigating circumstances and proposed reducing his jail term by six months,” he said.

“However, in the end, the judging panel said that they decided to uphold the first verdict as it was suitable and accurate. Therefore, there were no grounds to reduce it,” Manh said.

The lawyer also said that his client was in better shape at the appellate trial than during the first trial. Thanh was unable to walk on his own in January. His lawyer and family at that time claimed he had been tortured during pretrial detention.

In its newly-realsed Vietnam 2021 Human Rights Report, the U.S. State Department said Thanh was arrested “on charges of resisting a law enforcement officer in what international human rights observers asserted was retribution for exposing systemic corruption on his YouTube channel” and that “Thanh, who was fired in July 2020, criticized what he called a ‘culture of corruption within the prison system.’” 

One day before the appellate trial, Vietnam’s state media also reported that Thanh had also been prosecuted for “abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to violate the state’s interest and the legitimate interests of organizations and individuals” during his livestreamed videos on social media.

Translated by Anna Vu. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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