The appeal trial for an RFA blogger now serving a 10-year sentence in Vietnam in what he has called a case of political persecution against him is now set for Friday, a U.S.-based NGO and his lawyer said on Monday.
Truong Du Nhat, who had been a weekly contributor to RFA's Vietnamese Service before his abduction in Thailand by Vietnamese police last year, was convicted in March for "abusing his position and authority" in a decade-old land-fraud case.
A trial to hear his appeal of his sentence will now be held on Aug. 14, The 88 Project, an Illinois-based NGO that tracks the cases of Vietnamese political prisoners held in the one-party communist state said on Aug. 10.
"I can't predict the outcome of this appeal trial," defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh told RFA's Vietnamese Service in an interview on Monday after the court date was announced.
"If the trial relies only on legal evidence, we believe that it will result in a huge shift in the way [Truong's] case is viewed and evaluated," he said, calling the evidence pointing to his client's guilt "very poor."
But there could be many unforeseen developments once the trial begins, Dang said.
Truong, who went missing in Bangkok in January 2019 and was later revealed to be under arrest in Hanoi, spoke in July with three of his seven defense lawyers to prepare his appeal in a prison meeting that was closely monitored by prison guards.
He was charged by police investigators in July 2019 with "abusing his position" in a case involving the sale of public land at an eventual loss to the state of over VND 13 billion (U.S. $560,000), a charge his lawyer described as controversial.
The charge was filed only after investigators failed to find sufficient evidence to convict him on another charge of illegally acquiring property, his wife and a family friend told RFA in an earlier report.
Low tolerance of dissent
Vietnam's already low tolerance of dissent has deteriorated sharply this year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists and publishers, as well as Facebook personalities.
Activists say things are likely to get worse as authorities stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party congress in January.
The 88 Project reported in June that an increasing number of bloggers in Vietnam were arrested in 2019 on charges of "distributing, or disseminating information, documents, and items against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" in violation of Article 117 of Vietnam's penal code.
"Many of those charged with this crime had no history of activism and were solely targeted for their peaceful expression online. Forty percent of the people arrested in 2019 were online commentators," the NGO said.
Vietnam, with a population of 92 million people, of which 55 million are estimated to be users of Facebook, has been consistently rated "not free" in the areas of internet and press freedom by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog group.
Dissent is not tolerated in the communist nation, and authorities routinely use a set of vague provisions in the penal code to detain dozens of writers and bloggers.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Huy Le. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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