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Vietnam court rejects appeal by US citizen Michael Nguyen, returns him to prison

American-Vietnamese citizen William Nguyen is escorted by policemen to a courtroom for his trial in Ho Chi Minh City on July 20, 2018. (AFP/Getty Images)
November 08, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

A court in southern Vietnam’s  Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday rejected the appeal of a U.S. citizen convicted in June of activities “aimed at overthrowing the state,” sending him back to prison to serve his full 12-year term.

Michael Nguyen, a resident of California and father of four, disappeared on July 6, 2018 while visiting friends and relatives in Vietnam, and his whereabouts and condition remained unknown for more than three weeks.

Speaking to RFA on Thursday, Nguyen Van Mieng—an attorney for another man convicted in the case—confirmed the court had rejected Nguyen’s appeal, adding, “When his term expires, he will be deported to the United States.”

Two men convicted with Nguyen, Huynh Duc Thanh Binh and Tran Long Phi, were sentenced in June to 10 years and eight years, respectively, but did not appeal their verdicts, Mieng said.

Government authorities had accused the three of plotting with a previously unknown group to help incite protests that erupted across Vietnam on June 10 in opposition to two controversial bills, one regarding special economic zones (SEZ) and the other concerning cybersecurity.

Also sent back

In a separate case, a Ho Chi Minh City court meanwhile rejected the appeal of jailed environmental activist Nguyen Ngoc Anh, sending him back to prison on Thursday to serve six years followed by five years of probation for criticizing the government on Facebook.

Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, was convicted in June in Ben Tre province on charges of “making, storing, spreading, and declaring transmitted information and documents to combat the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s 2015 Criminal Code.

Writings by Anh described by authorities as slandering Vietnam’s one-party communist government and state included criticisms of the government’s handling of environmental damage resulting from a massive toxic waste spill in 2016 that left thousands without work in three coastal provinces.

Speaking to RFA’s Vietnamese Service after Anh’s hearing, defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh said that Thursday’s court proceeding were marked by unusually tight security, with relatives only permitted to watch via a television monitor placed in another room.

“And whenever I spoke [to present Anh’s case], the TV screen went black,” he said.

Courage in court

Anh showed great courage in court, admitting all activities outlined in the prosecutors’ case against him, but denying his guilt, Manh said.

“He said that he had only exercised rights guaranteed by Vietnam’s constitution, including the freedom of expression, the right to participate in the functions of government, the right to contribute to society, and the right to call for protests.”

“In fact, calling on others to exercise their civil rights is not an illegal act,” Manh said.

Vietnam’s one-party communist government currently holds an estimated 128 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security, according to a May report by rights group Amnesty International.

It also controls all media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.