Vietnam sentences activist to 7 years in prison

Nguyen Van Hoa, center, stands on trial in central province of Ha Tinhi, Vietnam, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. Hoa was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda at the trial that lasted half-day Monday. (Cong Tuong/Vietnam News Agency via AP)

HANOI, Vietnam — A court in central Vietnam on Monday sentenced an activist to seven years in prison for producing online videos and interviews related to an environmental disaster that instigated anti-government protests, in the authorities' latest crackdown on dissent.

Following a trial that lasted half a day, Nguyen Van Hoa was convicted of spreading anti-state propaganda by the People's Court in Ha Tinh province.

He was also charged with using social media platforms including Facebook to spread documents that defamed the government, the state-run online Ha Tinh newspaper reported. It said Hoa also sent distorting articles to "reactionary" groups in exile for financial support.

Court officials weren't immediately available for comment.

In April last year, Taiwanese-owned Formosa Plastics Group's steel complex in Ha Tinh province dumped toxins into the ocean that killed hundreds of tons of fish along 200 kilometers (124 miles) of coastline in four central provinces. It was one of Vietnam's worst environmental disasters.

The incident devastated the region's seafood and tourism industries and sparked protests against Formosa and the local government for its allegedly slow response to the disaster. The Taiwanese company was ordered to pay compensation of $500 million.

The Ha Tinh newspaper said 22-year-old Hoa had directly arranged for the videos, photos and interviews related to the disaster to be posted on social media to instigate protests against the government.

Vietnam opened up to foreign trade and investment three decades ago and has one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, but the Communist government continues to have almost no tolerance for dissent.

International human rights groups and some Western governments often criticize Vietnam for jailing people for peacefully expressing their views, but Vietnam's government says only lawbreakers are punished.

In the last 12 months, police have arrested at least 28 people and charged them with vaguely interpreted national security violations, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch.

More than 100 activists are currently serving prison terms for exercising their basic freedoms of expression, assembly, association and religion, the rights group says.

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