A Vietnamese communist official turned democracy campaigner was jailed for eight years on Wednesday, his lawyer said, in a case activists see as part of a wider crackdown on free speech.
Vi Duc Hoi, who published online commentaries on issues including land disputes between citizens and the authorities, was convicted of anti-government propaganda after a half-day trial, legal representative Tran Lam told AFP.
Lam, who had asked the court to issue a warning rather than a jail term, said 54-year-old Hoi reacted calmly to the verdict but planned to appeal.
Hoi was charged with “propaganda against the state”, which rights activists say criminalises free speech in the one-party state. The charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Trials in Vietnam are usually closed to the general public and AFP was not granted permission to attend the hearing in the northern province of Lang Son.
Hoi worked as a district official, including as head of a local state propaganda department, and was a Communist Party member for three decades until he resigned to become a democracy activist, his wife said after his arrest in October.
In 2009 Hoi received an award from US-based Human Rights Watch, which said he wrote articles that criticised the party and called for democratic reforms. This led to his being placed under house arrest, HRW said.
On Tuesday the group said Hoi and others were targeted last year as the government “intensified its repression” against bloggers, democracy campaigners and other peaceful activists.
The United States ambassador has also said the Internet and free expression were increasingly stifled last year during a clampdown that saw almost 40 people arrested or convicted.