[JURIST] A Vietnamese court sentenced writer and democracy activist Pham Thanh Nghien to a four-year prison term on Friday on charges of spreading anti-state propaganda. Foreign observers were not permitted to attend the trial, which took place in the city of Haiphong in the northern region of Vietnam [JURIST news archive] and lasted less than a day [AFP report]. Nghien was sentenced under Vietnam's Penal Code Article 88 [text], which provides for up to 20 years in prison for crimes including "propagating against" the government or "circulating documents ... with contents against" the government. Convictions under Article 88 have been criticized [press release] by groups such as Amnesty International [advocacy website], which calls the law "vaguely worded" and accuses authorities of a "long history of using its sweeping provisions to silence voices they deem unacceptable."
Nghien is the latest in a string of dissidents to be convicted for anti-government activities. Last week, a Vietnamese court convicted four democracy activists [JURIST report] of subversion in a one-day trial. Prominent human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh [JURIST news archive], Le Thang Long, and Nguyen Tien Trung were given prison sentences between 5-7 years, and Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc received a 16-year sentence. Dinh was originally charged [JURIST report] with spreading propaganda under Article 88, but was eventually convicted of the more serious crime of subversion. Last month, pro-democracy dissident Tran Anh Kim was also sentenced [JURIST report] to five-and-a-half years in prison for subversion. In 2009, two Vietnamese newspaper editors were dismissed from their jobs for protesting the arrests of two journalists [JURIST reports] who reported on government corruption. The arrested reporters, accused of "abusing freedom and democracy," were sentenced to two years of prison and "re-education" for reporting on the so-called PMU 18 corruption scandal [JURIST reports].