Vietnamese Couple Jailed for Criticizing Communist Government Online

Vietnamese Couple Jailed for Criticizing Communist Government Online
A Vietnamese flag flying atop Lung Cu flag tower in Dong Van district, northern province of Ha Giang, Vietnam, in an undated file photo. (Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP via Getty Images)
Aldgra Fredly

A court in Vietnam on Tuesday handed down sentences to a couple arrested for broadcasting criticism of the ruling Communist Party on social media, according to a local news report.

The court sentenced Nguyen Thai Hung, 50, to four years in prison and his wife, Vu Thi Kim Hoang, 44, to two and a half years for “abusing democratic freedoms” through their YouTube channel.

Neither defendant had legal representation throughout the trial. Hoang alleged the police had intimidated them into forgoing counsel, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.

“We could not debate much at today’s trial,” she told RFA. “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.”

Hoang believes the outcome would have been the same had they been given the opportunity to defend themselves. She claimed that only her daughter was allowed into the courtroom despite the trial being open to the public.

Their YouTube channel, “Telling the Truth TV,” focuses on national issues commentary. It had nearly 40,000 followers and over 384 million dong ($15,453) in advertising revenue, which authorities deemed “illegal profits.”

Arrested While Broadcasting

The couple was arrested at their residence in Dong Nai province on Jan. 5. Hung was live-streaming on YouTube when the police allegedly broke into their home, RFA reported. Police later released Hoang in April.

In its indictment, the court said that Hung hosted 21 online discussions from June 2020 to January 2022 on YouTube, “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.”

Hoang was accused of conspiring because she provided Hung with accommodations and gave him access to her laptop and bank account.

Hung pleaded not guilty, saying that he was only using YouTube as a platform to exercise his right to free speech and democracy. His wife admitted her actions in court. The couple said they would seek counsel to file an appeal.

Freedom of expression and civil society activism is “tightly restricted” in the communist-controlled country, according to the Freedom House, which ranked Vietnam as “not free” in its 2022 Freedom in the World report.
Earlier in November, Vietnam mandated the removal of “false” content from social media platforms within 24 hours, as opposed to the initial 48 hours, as it intensifies a crackdown on “anti-state” activity.

“The ministry will propose to the government an increase in administrative fines to a level that is high enough to deter the public,” Nguyen Manh Hung, Vietnam’s information and communications minister, said on Nov. 4.

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