A Vietnamese court on Tuesday sentenced a couple to prison for “abusing democratic freedoms” on their popular social media channel by allegedly smearing Vietnamese officials, one of the defendants said.
A court in Dong Nai province sentenced Nguyen Thai Hung to a four-year term and his spouse, Vu Thi Kim Hoang, to two-and-a-half years for running their “Telling the Truth TV” YouTube channel, which had nearly 40,000 followers and earned allegedly “illegal profits” of more than 384 million dong, or U.S. $15,500, from advertisements.
During the trial, police presented evidence from material the pair presented on the social media platform addressing a deadly January 2020 police raid over a tense land dispute in northern Vietnam’s Dong Tam village, the management of prisoners, and Vietnam’s communist regime and legal system.
Hoang, 44, was arrested with Hung, 50, in January. Police released Hoang in late April.
She told RFA that the couple first hired Nguyen Van Mieng as their defense lawyer, but later dismissed him under pressure from police. They also believed they would be able to defend themselves at the trial.
But the trial did not go as expected, Hoang said.
“We could not debate much at today’s trial,” she said. “Most of the time, they asked us yes-or-no questions. That was it. Because we did not have a lawyer, we did not have the right to speak.”
Even if the couple had had a chance to explain what they had done, the verdict would have still been the same, Hoang said.
Although the trial was supposed to be open to the public, Hoang said only her daughter was allowed into the courtroom. Other relatives had to remain at the building’s entrance, she said.
The indictment said from June 2020 to January 2022, Hung used his YouTube channel to host 21 online discussions that contained content “speaking badly of the [Communist] Party and the state, distorting the government’s socioeconomic policy, slandering the party and state’s high-level leaders, and distorting recent high-profile incidents.”
Hung’s comments in the videos, which each had 19,000-56,000 views, “caused confusion and worries to the people and seriously insulted the party and state’s senior leaders,” according to the indictment.
Hoang was accused of “being a related and supportive person” for providing Hung with accommodations and letting him use her laptop and access her bank account.
She admitted the acts in court, while Hung pleaded innocent, saying that by live-streaming his talks on YouTube, he was exercising his rights to freedom of speech and democracy.
After the verdict was rendered, the couple announced that they would hire a defense lawyer to appeal the decision.
No additional content has been posted on the YouTube channel since the pair’s arrest.
The one-party state dominated by the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam tightly curbs freedom of expression and enforces stringent controls over the country’s online environment.
Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin. Edited by Jim Snyder.