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Online commentator receives harsh sentence in Vietnam

Bangkok, April 29, 2011--Vietnamese authorities should release democracy activist and online commentator Vi Duc Hoi, who was given a five-year prison term Tuesday for critical essays posted on the Internet, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.  

Hoi, a former high-ranking Communist party member turned pro-democracy activist, was originally sentenced to eight years in prison and five years of house arrest in January on charges of disseminating "propaganda against the state" for commentaries he posted on the Internet, according to international news reports. An appeals court in Lang Son province reduced the terms to five years in prison and three years house arrest on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

Agence France-Presse reported that some of Hoi's blog postings focused on land disputes between citizens and the government. A series of six online articles published between December 2006 and March 2007 were critical of one-party rule and praised the underground pro-democracy movement, according to exiled opposition group Viet Tan.  

Hoi received Human Rights Watch's prestigious Hellman/Hammett Award in 2009 for his writings.

His wife, Haong Thi Tuoi, told AP that the Supreme People's Court of Appeals reduced Hoi's sentences because of his cooperation with investigators and his past service to the Communist Party. He was arrested in October 2010, news reports said.  

"Vi Duc Hoi's commentaries calling for democratic reforms clearly hit a nerve with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's government," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "We call on Dung to release Hoi and all the other bloggers and journalists his government holds behind bars on bogus charges."

Hoi's sentencing comes amid a mounting clampdown on dissent, including over the Internet. An executive decree came into force in February that gave authorities greater powers to penalize journalists, editors, and bloggers for reporting on what the government deems as sensitive issues. The decree's Article 5 makes sharp distinctions between the rights of journalists accredited to the government and independent bloggers, online reporters, and freelancers.

At least six politically-oriented bloggers are among the scores of activists held on vague and arbitrary national security-related charges, including "spreading propaganda against the state" and "abusing democratic freedoms," CPJ research shows. 

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