Vietnamese journalist Le Trong Hung, who campaigned as an independent candidate in the National Assembly election, was sentenced to five years in prison by a Hanoi court on Dec. 31, after he was accused of spreading information opposing the state.
Hung was convicted of “making, storing, distributing, or disseminating information, documents, and items against the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code. He was arrested on March 27 without access to an attorney or his family.
The court also sentenced Hung to five years of probation upon the completion of his five-year prison sentence.
His attorney, Ha Huy Son, described Hung’s conviction as “vague” and said the prosecution “never showed up in court to present the grounds for the anti-state charges,” Radio Free Asia reported.
Citing the court file, Hung’s wife, Do Le Na, said Hung was convicted based on four videos that he posted on Facebook, in which he discussed the 2020 Dong Tam police raid, the court’s role in Vietnam’s political system, and his candidacy for the National Assembly election.
“I and my family no longer have trust in this legal system. My husband declared at the trial that he will not appeal, and I respect his decision,” Na said after the ruling, noting that authorities had also tried to prevent relatives from attending the hearing.
Hung, 42, is a former middle school teacher who founded CHTV, a social media channel that debates social and political issues. He reports widely on issues involving activists in Vietnam via social media, and he was also involved in anti-China protests.
Prior to his arrest, Hung had announced his intention to run as an independent candidate for the election and published his proposed policies, which called for the amendment of the constitution, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.
Two other people who tried to run as independent candidates in the election, Le Van Dung and Tran Quoc Khanh, were also arrested on the same charge.
Despite that, the Communist Party of Vietnam refuted the allegation that Hung’s arrest was due to his candidacy, saying that it was due to his long-standing law violations. It claimed that Hung “continuously makes speeches that defame the government, oppose the state, and dismiss the leadership role of the Party.”
HRW called for Hung’s immediate release and condemned the move by authorities to prosecute him for challenging the status quo.
“Imprisoning activists like Le Trong Hung who dare to run as independent candidates for parliament shows what a charade Vietnam’s elections are,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also urged Vietnamese authorities to stop violating “fundamental freedoms” and called for the immediate release of all rights and land activists who were jailed for “spreading anti-state propaganda.”
Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the criminal code under which these charges were brought is “overly broad” and “inconsistent with international human rights norms.”
“All the cases follow similar worrying patterns that raise serious issues concerning the presumption of innocence, the legality of their detention, and the fairness of their trial,” Shamdasani said.