[JURIST] A Vietnamese court sentenced writer and democracy activist Pham Thanh Nghien to a four-year prison term on Friday on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. Foreign observers were not permitted to attend the trial, which took place in the city of Haiphong in the northern region of Vietnam [JURIST news archive] and lasted less than a day [AFP report]. Nghien was sentenced under Vietnam's Penal Code Article 88 [text], which provides for up to 20 years in prison for crimes including "propagating against" the government or "circulating documents … with contents against" the government. Convictions under Article 88 have been criticized [press release] by groups such as Amnesty International [advocacy website], which calls the law "vaguely worded" and accuses authorities of a "long history of using its sweeping provisions to silence voices they deem unacceptable."
Nghien is the latest in a string of dissidents to be convicted for anti-government activities. Last week, a Vietnamese court convicted four democracy activists [JURIST report] of subversion in a one-day trial. Prominent human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh [JURIST news archive], Le Thang Long, and Nguyen Tien Trung were given prison sentences between 5-7 years, and Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc received a 16-year sentence. Dinh was originally charged [JURIST report] with spreading propaganda under Article 88, but was eventually convicted of the more serious crime of subversion. Last month, pro-democracy dissident Tran Anh Kim was also sentenced [JURIST report] to five-and-a-half years in prison for subversion. In 2009, two Vietnamese newspaper editors were dismissed from their jobs for protesting the arrests of two journalists [JURIST reports] who reported on government corruption. The arrested reporters, accused of "abusing freedom and democracy," were sentenced to two years of prison and "re-education" for reporting on the so-called PMU 18 corruption scandal [JURIST reports].