(Reuters) - A court in Vietnam jailed a blogger on Monday for seven years for “conducting propaganda against the state”, the latest action against a critic of the one-party state.
Nguyen Van Hoa, 22, rose to prominence after a toxic waste spill from a steel mill built by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp’s Vietnam unit that polluted more than 200 km (125 miles) of coast, sparking rare protests in the Communist Party-ruled country.
Despite sweeping economic reforms and growing openness to social change, including gay, lesbian and transgender rights, Vietnam retains tight media censorship and its government does not tolerate criticism.
In recent months, authorities have stepped up measures to silence critics whose voices on various issues have been amplified by social media in a country that is among Facebook’s top 10 by users.
The people’s court in Ha Tinh province said on its website Hoa had been found guilty of propaganda against the state. It said Hoa produced videos to call for protests after the spill.
Neither Hoa nor or a legal or family representative were available for comment.
Hoa was arrested and prosecuted in April for publishing anti-government content.
The Formosa incident, one of Vietnam’s worst environmental disasters, is a sensitive topic for the government as it balances political stability, environmental protection and foreign investment, one of the drivers of economic growth.
The government has said it will prosecute identified Formosa protesters for “causing public disorder”.
Another critic of the steel mill spill, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as “Me Nam” (Mother Mushroom), was given a 10-year jail term for publishing propaganda against the state.
A prominent rights lawyer who has represented Quynh, said on Monday the Bar Federation in Phu Yen province had revoked his licence to practice.
“The government does not want me to work as a lawyer anymore because I have been defending poor people, people who were unjustly charged ... cases that are sensitive in Vietnam,” the lawyer, Vo An Don, told Reuters.
Don said he would not be able to defend Quynh at her appeal hearing.
Reuters was unable to immediately reach the Bar Federation or government authorities for comment on the case.
Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Robert Birsel