HANOI, March 4 (Reuters) - A court in Vietnam sentenced a former journalist to two years in prison on Tuesday for speaking out against the country’s communist rulers, a verdict the United States expressed deep concern over and called to be overturned.
Truong Duy Nhat, 50, was found to have “abused his freedoms to infringe upon the state’s interest” in posts on his blog, the last of which was in May last year, when he criticised the procedure for Vietnam first-ever parliamentary censure motion.
The sentence comes as part of a widening crackdown on Vietnamese who have criticised various government issues, despite free speech being guaranteed under the constitution and the country being awarded a seat last year on the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Most arrests and jail terms have involved bloggers or activists who posted comments on the Internet, which is used by a third of Vietnam’s 90 million people and is one of only a few available channels for dissent in a country where protests are rare and the media is tightly controlled by the state.
Nhat quit his journalist job in 2010 and ran a blog titled “Truong Duy Nhat - a different viewpoint” that was known for criticism of top government officials including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
Nhat was arrested after commenting on the level of scrutiny in the National Assembly’s inaugural censure motion, which did not give lawmakers an option to cast “no confidence” votes against scores of officials that included the prime minister, president and central bank governor.
Nhat told the court he was innocent in his final remarks before sentencing in the central city of Danang, according to his lawyer Tran Vu Hai.
The verdict could further complicate efforts by the United States to boost trade and military ties with Vietnam and turn a former war foe into a new ally in a region where China’s sphere of influence is expanding.
It was delivered on the same day as a visit to Vietnam by United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.
The United States embassy issued a statement calling for Vietnam to free Nhat and all other political prisoners and “allow all Vietnamese to peacefully express their political views”. (Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel; Editing by)