Vietnamese blogger gets 7 years jail for reporting on toxic spill

Activist Nguyen Van Hoa standing trial at a local people's court in the central province of Ha Tinh, Vietnam. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (NYTIMES) - A chemical spill that devastated the coast of central Vietnam last year has claimed another casualty, with a 22-year-old blogger sentenced to seven years in prison for posting reports on the disaster.

After a brief, closed trial in Ha Tinh province, the blogger, Nguyen Van Hoa, was found guilty on Monday (Nov 27) of spreading anti-state propaganda for producing videos and writing about protests over the toxic spill, news agencies reported.

The discharge, which occurred when a new Taiwan-owned steel factory flushed cyanide and other chemicals through its waste pipeline, killed marine life and sickened people along a 193-kilometre stretch of coastline. It is one of Vietnam's largest environmental disasters.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, denounced the verdict. "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," he said.

He added: "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?"

In June, a court sentenced another blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known as Mother Mushroom, to 10 years in prison, also for blogging about the fish kill.

Initially, the government provided little information about the spill, withholding the names of the toxic agents even from poisoning victims and the doctors who were treating them.

The company, Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corp, a subsidiary of the giant Formosa Plastics Group, was eventually found to be responsible for the spill. It was ordered to pay US$500 million (S$673 million) for causing the catastrophe, and company officials apologised.

Critics accused the government of attempting to protect the company, which they said had received a special deal from officials when acquiring prime coastal property for the factory.

The toxic spill deprived coastal fishermen of their livelihoods and set off major protests along the central coast, which is unusual in tightly-controlled Vietnam.

Hoa, who was arrested in April, is one of a growing number of activists in Vietnam who use Facebook and other online platforms to post videos, photographs and commentary that are contrary to the government's official position.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.