Vietnam Facebook activist jailed for 'anti-state propaganda'

Hanoi (AFP) –


A Vietnamese activist has been jailed for four-and-a-half years over a slew of anti-government Facebook posts in the one-party state where online expression is closely watched for flickers of dissent.

Bui Hieu Vo was sentenced Wednesday after a one-day trial in southern Ho Chi Minh City for "anti-state propaganda", a court clerk confirmed to AFP, over more than 50 posts on his Facebook page that authorities deemed defamatory.

Vo's articles tarnished "the policies of the party and state and leaders with false information," according to Phap Luat Online newspaper, the mouthpiece of Ho Chi Minh City's justice department.

"Vo admitted in court that he wrote and posted online articles that were overly critical," it added.

Many of the posts blamed the government for failing to compensate fishermen after a massive fish kill in 2016 caused by a toxic dump by the Taiwanese steel firm Formosa.

Vo is the latest to be jailed by a conservative administration which took power in 2016, which critics say is aggressively targeting activists.

At least 97 prisoners of conscience are behind bars in the communist state, according to Amnesty International.

Another activist was arrested Wednesday for "abusing the rights to freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state and the people", also over a series of controversial Facebook posts.

Nguyen Duy Son, an employee at a post-secondary school in Thanh Hoa province was accused of using his account to post anti-government commentary, according to Thanh Nien newspaper.

Vietnam ranks among Facebook's top 10 users by numbers and is the platform of choice for activists in the country where all independent media is banned and blog sites are routinely taken down.

But dissidents have complained of censorship on the social media platform.

Earlier this year, a group of 50 activists and rights groups accused Facebook of colluding with the government to remove profiles and comments deemed critical of the state.

Others have also reported online harassment by a 10,000-strong cybersecurity task force announced by the government this year.

Dubbed "Force 47", the online soldiers are tasked with monitoring content and dissidents say their pages are routinely flooded with pro-government commentary from the brigade.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Vietnam 175 out of 180 countries on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, trailed by Eritrea, North Korea and Syria.