A court in Vietnam has sentenced a blogger to seven years in jail for reports he wrote about a toxic spill in the country.
On Monday Nguyen Van Hoa was found guilty of spreading “anti-state propaganda” about a chemical spill that occured in Vietnam in 2016.
The spill, which occured in April, has been dubbed the country’s worst environmental disaster. It happened when Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a Taiwanese-owned steel factory released chemicals which included cyanide, into the sea.
The discharge killed marine life, causing at least 70 tonnes of dead fish to be washed ashore and destroyed some 200 hectares of coral reef. Hundreds of people were believed to have fallen ill after eating the poisoned fish.
Thousands of demonstrators had come out to the factory protesting and demanding compensation. It was these protests that the 22-year-old blogger wrote about that led to his arrest earlier this year.
“The sentencing of Nguyen Van Hoa shows how profoundly the government’s paranoid desire to maintain political control trumps notions of justice and human rights,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia told the New York Times.
“How else can one explain that executives of an international firm that poisoned the ocean… are free to go about their business while this idealistic young journalist is heading to prison for helping expose their misdeeds?”
‘Defaming’ the government
But Nguyen isn’t the only blogger to be affected.
Another blogger, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known as Mother Mushroom, was jailed earlier in June this year for 10 years, for distributing propaganda against the state.
Mother Mushroom first rose to prominence in 2006 writing about political and environmental issues.
Her blog was frequently critical of the government, and she wrote about controversial issues like Beijing’s financing of a bauxite mine in Vietnam and the government’s handling of the toxic chemical spill.
At a closed-door trial, a judge said she had defamed the government and published inaccurate information, among other charges.
Vietnam’s government was heavily criticised after it remained silent for weeks after the chemical spill incident, only coming out later in June to acknowledge that Formosa had indeed leaked chemicals into the South China Sea.
The company later admitted responsibility and agreed to pay $500 million in damages.
It re-opened in May this year, with the organisation saying it would “improve environmental safety measures” and aim to re-start commercial production by the end of the year.