Prominent Vietnamese activist blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy saw their trial open in court in Hanoi Wednesday amid a rare dissident protest.
Vinh, also known by his pen name Anh Ba Sam, has been in pretrial detention along with Thuy since May 2014 for “abusing freedom and democracy to infringe upon the interests of the state,” in the words of the relevant legislation.
Vietnamese dissidents and foreign critics accuse the government of punishing Vinh for sharing pro-democracy viewpoints on his blog, which served as a news aggregator for both state media and activist bloggers.
“It’s a very broadly and vaguely worded provision," blogger and activist Pham Doan Trang said of the law. "It means anyone can be accused of using democratic freedoms to infringe on the interests of the state," she told dpa.
Dozens of protesters across the street from the courthouse were met with a heavy police presence, but demonstrators mostly ignored authorities’ demands to disperse even after at least two were arrested.
“If they dare to arrest me, no problem because I can face the risk,” one friend of Vinh, activist blogger Anh Chi said outside the courthouse.
Ha Huy Son, who serves as Vinh’s lawyer, said the charges were politically motivated at a dissident meeting on Tuesday in Hanoi.
“He just acted on the dictation of his conscience,” he said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said none of the content on Vinh’s blog warranted state intervention.
“By hauling blogger Nguyen Huu Vinh into court on this bogus charge, Vietnam just shows how intolerant it is of independent voices challenging the government's biased view of reality,” he told dpa.
Vietnam is consistently ranked one of the least free countries in the world. In Reporters Without Borders’ 2015 World Press Freedom Index, Vietnam had the world’s sixth least free press.