HANOI – A prominent Vietnamese blogger went on trial Wednesday on anti-state charges, amid heavy security at Hanoi’s central court, with police closing roads and breaking up a protest by dozens of supporters.
Nguyen Huu Vinh, more commonly known as Anh Ba Sam, was arrested in 2014 and has been held in detention ever since, accused of disseminating anti-government articles on his wildly popular news site.
The 60-year-old blogger and his assistant Nguyen Thi Minh Thuy, 35, are both accused of “abusing democratic freedoms”, a charge that carries up to seven years in jail.
Vietnam bans private media and all newspapers and television channels are state-run. Lawyers, bloggers and activists are regularly subject to arbitrary arrest and detention.
According to Reporters Without Borders, Vietnam has put more than 30 bloggers behind bars – second only to China.
On Wednesday dozens of protestors waved photographs of Vinh and chanted demands for his release, before scores of uniformed and plain clothed police forced them to disperse.
At least two people were arrested when police broke up the demonstration.
Vinh, once a policeman himself, founded the well known political and social blog “Ba Sam” in 2007 – initially to store articles for his own reference.
The blog then became a news aggregator with links to major stories in state-run newspapers as well as blog posts from activists.
Constant hacking attacks forced Vinh to regularly change the blog’s web address.
It was taken down shortly after his arrest and has not been available since.
Vo Van Tao, 63, a journalist and friend of Vinh, said he had travelled from southern Nha Trang city to Hanoi by car to attend the trial because authorities prevented him from flying.
“Ba Sam is innocent, he’s a hero. He did good work for the people of this country,” he told AFP at the protest opposite the court in Hanoi.
Academic and dissident Nguyen Quang A, who was later detained by police after the protest Wednesday, told AFP that Vinh was on trial because “a lot of people read his blog”, but the strategy would backfire and trigger greater public interest in what he had to say.