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(New York) – Vietnamese authorities should immediately free the blogger Nguyen Dinh Ngoc and all other peaceful critics imprisoned for criticizing the government, the ruling Vietnam Communist Party, or their policies, Human Rights Watch said today. On October 5, 2016, the Higher People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City will hear the appeal of his March conviction for writing and publishing critical articles online.

“Expressing critical views about the Vietnamese government should not be a crime,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The Vietnamese government should learn to tolerate different opinions, not just those that praise the ruling party and government.”

Blogger Nguyen Dinh Ngoc (a.k.a Nguyen Ngoc Gia). © Dan Lam Bao

Nguyen Dinh Ngoc, 50, known on the Internet as Nguyen Ngoc Gia, is a former staff member at Ho Chi Minh City Television. He writes about social and political issues relating to democracy and human rights for the Vietnamese page of Radio Free Asia, and on politically independent websites including Dan Luan, Dan Lam Bao, and Dan Chim Viet. He has also expressed support for bloggers and activists imprisoned for exercising their basic rights, such as Tran Huynh Duy ThucLe Quoc QuanDinh Nguyen Kha, and Bui Thi Minh Hang. Early in December 2014, Nguyen Dinh Ngoc wrote that hackers tried to hack into his Facebook and Gmail accounts.

According to the indictment, as reported by state media, on December 25, 2014, the police received correspondence from the Saigon Post and Telecommunications Service Corporation claiming that Nguyen Dinh Ngoc was using the internet to “disseminate articles that speak badly of the Party and the State of Vietnam.” He was arrested two days later and charged with “conducting propaganda against the state” under article 88 of the penal code. In August 2015, while Nguyen Dinh Ngoc was in detention awaiting trial, his 20-year-old son, Nguyen Dinh Vinh Khang, died in a traffic accident, but the authorities did not allow him to attend his son’s funeral.

On March 30, 2016, during a trial reported to have lasted only two hours, the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City sentenced Nguyen Dinh Ngoc to four years in prison, to be followed by three years on probation that requires him not to leave his residential ward.

During his visit to Vietnam in May, United States President Barack Obama stated in his public speech: “And we're not immune from criticism, I promise you. I hear it every day. But that scrutiny, that open debate, confronting our imperfections, and allowing everybody to have their say has helped us grow stronger and more prosperous and more just.” Upon hearing that, the prominent blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh commented on Facebook, “Our state also hears criticism every day. And that has helped our prisons grow stronger and more prosperous.”

“What the blogger Huynh Ngoc Chenh said about free speech leading to a rising prison population in Vietnam is sad but true,” Adams said. “The Vietnamese government should recognize that putting peaceful critics behind bars does not help with the country’s development or the government’s standing with its own people.”

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