Vietnam Gives Blogger 7 Years in Prison After Reporting on Disastrous Toxic Spill

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A 22-year-old blogger will spend seven years in jail after writing reports about one of Vietnam’s worst environmental disasters that shook the Vietnamese coast last year.

Nguyen Van Hoa, arrested back in April, produced articles, photos and videos over a toxic spill caused by Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, a Taiwan-owned steel plant.

According to state media, he released the story for the purpose of “propagating against, distorting and defaming the government.” He was also accused of receiving money from “extremists and hostile forces” to elicit public disorder.

Through its waste pipeline, Formosa Corporation flushed cyanide and other chemicals that killed around 115 tons (104,326 kilograms) of fish, poisoned people and damaged livelihoods that depended on the affected areas.

Vietnam reportedly withheld information at first, such as the names of the toxic agents, even from victims and doctors. Some accused the government of protecting the company, claiming that a special deal existed between them.

On Monday, Hoa was found guilty of “conducting propaganda against the state” and violating Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code in a closed trial in Ha Tinh Province. He was not represented by a lawyer.

Le Cong Dinh, a rights lawyer, condemned the “completely predictable” verdict. He described it as a “secret trial” that took place as the court “tricked people” into thinking that the hearing would take place on Tuesday, as it was initially scheduled.

Dinh told Radio Free Asia:

“Under Vietnamese law, the defendant has the right to refuse a lawyer. But a trial without a lawyer, like this one, fails to meet an important legal standard that everyone around the world agrees on the need for.

“We all know that most of the evidence is fabricated and falsely interpreted. Therefore, it’s not surprising to know that there was no lawyer at his trial.”

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, also condemned the verdict via The New York Times:

“The sentencing of Nguyen Van Hoa shows how profoundly the government’s paranoid desire to maintain political control trumps notions of justice and human rights.

“How else can one explain that executives of an international firm that poisoned the ocean, ruining the coastal economy in four provinces, are free to go about their business while this idealistic young journalist is heading to prison for helping expose their misdeeds?”

For a catastrophe that stretched up to 120 miles (193 kilometers), Formosa was ordered to pay $500 million. Eleven officials were named responsible.

On top of his seven-year sentence, Hoa will also be banned from moving beyond his hometown for three more years. His verdict follows that of Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, another blogger sentenced to 10 years in June for blogging about the toxic spill.