HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — A dissident blogger was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday for posting online criticism of Vietnam's authoritarian government, drawing an immediate rebuke from the United States.
The verdict against Truong Duy Nhat was the latest in an intensifying crackdown against advocates of free speech and greater democracy in the Communist-ruled country, where the Internet is enabling more opportunities for organizing and spreading dissent.
Following a half-day trial in the central city of Danang, Nhat was convicted of "putting the country's leadership in a bad light," in a series of articles on his blog, his lawyer Tran Vu Hai said. He said Nhat maintained his acts did not constitute a crime.
"I merely exercised my rights to freedom of speech," Hai quoted Nhat as saying.
The United States wants close economic, military and diplomatic relations with its former enemy but has made it clear that better ties are dependent on Hanoi showing greater respect for democratic norms and human rights.
In a statement, the U.S. Embassy said it was "deeply concerned" about the sentence and called on the government to release "all prisoners of conscience, and allow all Vietnamese to peacefully express their political views."
Nhat was a reporter at a state-run newspaper before quitting more than three years ago to focus on his blog, "Another Point of View." He said in 2010 that he was quitting as a reporter "to write about things that I want to write."
The 50-year-old was arrested at home last May, a month after posting an article that called for the resignation of Communist Party Chief Nguyen Phu Trong and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, accusing them of being responsible for what he described as the country's "political chaos," ''slumping economy" and their failure to fight rampant corruption.
Human Rights Watch says the number of people sentenced in political trials has increased every year since 2010 and at least 63 people were imprisoned for peaceful political expression last year.