2 teachers jailed for criticizing authorities on social media

They are the latest examples of Vietnam’s suppression of basic freedoms and civil rights.


RFA | 2024.04.24

Two Vietnamese teachers were sentenced to prison on Wednesday in separate cases for criticizing authorities on social media under vague statutes often used to stifle dissent, people with knowledge of the situation said. 

They are the latest examples of how Vietnam systematically suppresses basic freedoms and civil rights. 

Duong Tuan Ngoc, 39, was sentenced by the Lam Dong People’s Court to seven years in prison and three years of probation under Article 117 of the country’s Penal Code for disseminating anti-state propaganda and “smearing senior leaders” on his social media accounts.

Retired teacher Nguyen Thu Hang, 62, received a two-year sentence under Article 331 for abusing democratic freedom that violated the interests of the state, rights and the legal interests of organizations and individuals.

She was convicted by the Dong Hoi People’s Court for using personal Facebook accounts to defame a judge who had presided over the land dispute case in which she was involved. She was also accused of streaming such video clips at various provincial offices.

Under the one-party rule of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the government severely restricts rights to freedom of expression, religion, association, peaceful assembly and movement, according to human rights and civil society groups.

“No one should be targeted for comments made on social media criticizing the government,” Josef Benedict, a researcher covering the Asia Pacific region for the CIVICUS Monitor, told RFA via text message.

Health videos

Ngoc, jailed since July 15, 2023, was an online teacher who specialized in macrobiotic diets, which aim to avoid foods containing toxins. He used to post articles and livestream videos about education, health and social issues on his Facebook and YouTube pages.

Police in Lam Dong province in southern Vietnam summoned him and his wife, Bui Thanh Diem Ngoc, on July 10, 2023, to question them about anonymous reports that Ngoc used his Facebook account to sell drugs.

But after Ngoc proved he was innocent, the police initiated a new probe on the charge of distributing anti-state propaganda and arrested him five days later.

Authorities accused the teacher of posting and sharing articles and videos on his Facebook and YouTube accounts that mocked, defamed and criticized the government and the party’s policies, and smeared senior party and state leaders, according to notices Lam Dong Police gave to Ngoc’s family.

A relative, who requested anonymity for safety reasons, told Radio Free Asia that Ngoc’s first-instance trial, which his wife and lawyer were allowed to attend, lasted about two hours on Wednesday morning.

“The defense lawyer did not make a defense case for him but requested sentence litigation, saying that he had a clean criminal record and had performed many charity activities before his arrest,” the person said.

During the trial, Ngoc admitted to having “spoken ill of government officials” but affirmed his wish of “a multiparty and pluralistic regime and an improved political regime,” said the relative.

It appears as though Ngoc will not appeal the verdict because he wants to serve his sentence as soon as possible so he can see his family again and resume work, the person said.

‘Lip service’

Benedict from CIVICUS said Ngoc’s arrest for peaceful expression online is the latest attempt by the Vietnamese regime to stifle peaceful expression, which contravenes the country’s international human rights obligations to protect fundamental freedoms.

He expressed concern over the government’s use of Article 117, which U.N. experts have found overly broad and aimed at silencing those who seek to exercise their right to freely express their views and share information with others.

“These actions are unbecoming of a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council and shows that the government has been only merely paying lip service to human rights and has no intention of respecting and protecting them,” Benedict said.

Vietnam is a current three-year member of the Human Right Council in Geneva, Switzerland, for the 2023-25 term and will seek reelection to the body for the 2026-28 term, despite widespread rights violations.

Ngoc is well-known on social media, and his Facebook page has more than 45,000 followers with an introductory description declaring: “I have rights as a citizen. You have rights as citizens. Citizens are the rightful owners of the country.”

He has two YouTube accounts, one of which features hundreds of videos on health, medicine and life in the countryside, and has nearly 95,000 followers. His other channel has about 39,000 followers and features videos discussing politics, corruption and poor leadership in Vietnam. 

Ngoc is the eighth Vietnamese activist convicted this year, and the third to be charged with disseminating “anti-state propaganda” according to an RFA tally.

Retired teacher

Meanwhile, the retired teacher, Nguyen Thu Hang, was sentenced to two years in jail for abusing democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state.

Hang, a resident of Dong Hoi city in Quang Binh province in central Vietnam, previously worked at a middle school in Dong Hoi, and was arrested on Nov. 27, 2023.

Dong Hoi police’s investigation agency said Hang disagreed with a verdict handed down in a civil trial about a land-use rights dispute and a request to annul a land-use rights certificate in which she was a plaintiff.

The agency said that from March to May 2023, Hang repeatedly used her Facebook account to livestream comments on Judge Nguyen Van Ngh, posting videos of herself speaking at the headquarters of Nam Ly ward, Dong Hoi’s Department of Education and Training, and Quang Binh province’s Inspection Department.

Translated by Anna Vu for RFA Vietnamese. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster.




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