Vietnamese prosecutors on Monday charged three bloggers with spreading pro-democracy propaganda in violation of the country's criminal law. Bloggers Nguyen Van Hai, alias Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai, alias Anhbasg, and Ta Phong Tan [blogs, in Vietnamese] are scheduled to begin their trials on April 17 in the People's Court of Ho Chi Minh City [official website, in Vietnamese] on charges of spreading propaganda to defame the Vietnamese government, in violation of Article 88 of the Criminal Code [text, PDF]. If convicted, the bloggers would face 10 to 20 years in prison. The three bloggers belonged to the Club for Free Journalists, established in 2007, which promoted journalism that was separate from the state-run media. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] and Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] have called for the writers' release [HRW report], calling the charges "politically-motivated" [AI report]. According to the advocacy groups, 60-year-old Nguyen has been in prison since 2008 and is suffering from health problems. Authorities refused to release him when he completed a 2-and-a-half-year sentence in 2010 for tax evasion.
According to the HRW 2012 Annual Report released in January [JURIST report], the Middle Eastern "Arab Spring" revolutions and protests may have inspired Vietnamese citizens to combat oppression in their country, especially restrictions on freedom of speech. However, the Vietnamese government has reacted strongly against pro-democracy bloggers. In November 2011, a Vietnamese appeals court reduced the sentence [JURIST report] of pro-democracy blogger and professor Pham Minh Hoang [blog, in Vietnamese], who had been sentenced [JURIST report] to three years in prison after writing anti-government articles on his blog under his pen name. In August, a Vietnamese appeals court upheld the seven-year sentence of prominent rights lawyer and dissident Cu Huy Ha Vu, convicted in April [JURIST reports] of carrying out anti-state propaganda. In January 2010, a Vietnamese court sentenced [JURIST report] writer and democracy activist Pham Thanh Nghien to four years in prison on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. The same month, a Vietnamese court convicted four democracy activists [JURIST report] of subversion.