The People’s Court of Tan Phu district in Vietnam’s southern province of Dong Nai on November 22 convicted a couple on the charge of “abusing democratic freedoms” to smear the regime and insult the leadership in a trial without legal assistance.
The trial started at 8 am and ended after nearly 3 hours. Mr. Nguyen Thai Hung, born in 1972, owner of the Youtube channel ” Nói bằng thực TV/Speaking with Reality TV” was sentenced to four years in prison and his fiancée, Vu Thi Kim Hoang, born in 1978, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for the allegation of “abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the State, organizations and individuals” according to Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
Ms. Hoang, who was arrested with her husband in early January but was released on bail since the end of April, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that the couple did not hire a lawyer.
She said that after the investigation ended, they also hired lawyer Nguyen Van Mieng, but the police persuaded and threatened them to make both of them write a letter to refuse the lawyer.
She recounted that at the beginning of the trial, the couple proposed to postpone the trial because they wanted to have a defense lawyer, but the Trial Panel did not agree, saying that if they wanted a lawyer, the defendants had to hire them in advance.
Ms. Hoang told about today’s court proceedings:
“Today the court hears, but we can’t argue much. It’s almost as if they ask us if we are right or wrong, that’s all. We don’t have a lawyer, we were not permitted to defend ourselves.
And no matter how we said, the final sentence is still as the Procuracy proposed earlier.”
She said that although the trial was open to the public, only her daughter could enter the courtroom, and other relatives had to observe the trial from outside the gate of the district court headquarters.
Immediately after the court handed down the verdict, both Mr. Hung and Ms. Hoang announced that they would appeal the sentence and hire a lawyer to seek a fairer sentence.
According to the indictment of the Procuracy, from the beginning of June 2020 until his arrest, Mr. Nguyen Thai Hung used a Youtube account named ” Nói bằng thực TV/Speaking with real TV” to conduct 21 live streams with content “slandering the ruling Party and the State, misrepresenting socio-economic development policies, slandering senior leaders of the Party and the State, and untruthfully misrepresenting recent outstanding events.”
The indictment also said Mr. Hung’s comments “caused confusion among the people and seriously insulted the leaders and senior leaders of the Party and State.”
The cases mentioned by the indictment include an attack by riot police on Dong Tam commune in early 2020 and many country problems such as prisoner management, communist regime, Vietnamese law, etc. with a large number of viewers from 19,000 to 56,000 per show.
Mr. Hung is accused of illegally profiting more than VND384 million (USD15,000) from ads on Youtube.
Ms. Hoang was accused of providing accommodation for Mr. Hung in addition to allowing him to use her bank account and laptop. Hoang herself has not made any statement on social networks.
According to the indictment, Ms. Hoang admitted to the above acts while Mr. Hung did not admit the crime but said that his live broadcast of talks on Youtube was to exercise his right to freedom of speech.
The Tan Phu District People’s Procuratorate concluded in the indictment that Mr. Hung and Ms. Hoang had violated points a, clause 1 and 5 of Article 16 of the Law on Cybersecurity and committed the crime of “abusing democratic freedoms, infringing upon violate the interests of the state, the legitimate rights and interests of organizations and individuals” as prescribed in Clause 2, Article 331 of the Criminal Code.
While Ms. Hoang has been released on bail since the end of April, Mr. Hung continues to be held in police custody. The investigation process ended at the end of June.
Mr. Hung’s YouTube channel has nearly 40,000 followers, was created in January 2020 but all videos have been deleted after he was arrested.
According to RFA statistics, so far this year, 16 people have been convicted of “abusing democratic freedoms” under Article 331 of the Criminal Code with sentences ranging from one to five years in prison.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, many democratic governments and international human rights organizations have been calling on Vietnam to remove Article 331 and Article 117 “conducting anti-state propaganda” of the Criminal Code because these provisions restrict freedom of expression.