Vietnamese Facebooker Sentenced to Nine Months in Prison for “Abuse of Democratic Freedom” for Posting on COVID-19

Facebooker Ma Phung Ngoc Phu in the trial on May 11, 2020 (Tuoi Tre newspaper)

Defend the Defenders, May 11, 2020


On May 11, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu district in the Mekong Delta’s hub of Can Tho City convicted a local female resident named Ma Phung Ngoc Phu of “abusing democratic freedom” under Article 331 of the country’s Criminal Code for her posts on Facebook regarding the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

The state-controlled media reported that she was convicted of disseminating fake news about Covid-19 infection in the country in late February as well as many statuses and articles with content distorting the communist regime and defaming its leaders in January-February.

The district police detained her on April 10 after finding out that she used her Facebook account James Nguyen to disseminate the information unfavorable for the regime.

She has been the second Facebooker being convicted of online posts so far this year. On April 27, the People’s Court of Ninh Kieu also convicted local resident Chung Hoang Chuong on the same allegation for posting news about the police brutal attack in Dong Tam commune in early January this year.

On May 6, the People’s Court of Da Huoai sentenced local citizen Dinh Vinh Son to nine months of probation and VND30 million ($1,280) for the allegation of “Illegal provision or use of information on computer networks or telecommunications networks” under Article 288 of the Criminal Code. Accordingly, Son was accused of posting fake news about the Covid-19 pandemic on his Facebook account Ho Hoang Duy in a bid of revenging a guy named Ho Hoang Duy, with who he has quarrel.

In addition to imprisoning Facebookers for their online posts, authorities in many Vietnamese localities have summoned hundreds of Facebookers for their posts regarding the disease and Vietnam’s response to the outbreak. According to media, around 400 of them have been fined between VND7.5 million and VND15 million after being requested to delete their questionable posts.

As the Covid-19 has killed hundreds of thousands of people and infected more than two million worldwide, Vietnam has only around 300 cases infected with Coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Health.

Also according to the ministry, no casualty of COVID-19 has been reported although there have been a number of suspicious deaths in many localities in recent months.

However, activists and many experts said the figures provided by the ministry are not reliable given the fact that hundreds of Chinese citizens, including from Wuhan, the first epicenter of the disease, have been visited and freely moved across Vietnam since late 2019 when the first cases were reported in the Chinese province of Hubei.

Activists said Vietnam’s communist regime, like China’s regime, is undermining the figures of Coronavirus infection and praise the government’s efforts in dealing with the pandemic to raise the regime’s legitimacy. As a result, people are not believing in the government’s data and seek other sources on social networks, especially on Facebook which is the most popular in Vietnam with more than 60 million accounts.