Authorities in Viet Nam must immediately release four activists jailed this week for spreading anti-State propaganda, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, said on Friday.

Over a three-day period, prominent human rights defenders Trinh Ba Phoung, Nguyen Thi Tam, Do Nam Trung and independent author Pham Doan Trang, were sentenced to up to a decade in jail, and five years on probation.

Silence and intimidate​

Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said OHCHR was “deeply troubled” by the harsh sentencing of the human rights and land rights defenders, who were charged under articles 88 and 117 of Viet Nam’s Criminal Code.

Meanwhile, journalist Le Trong Hung, who had announced his intention to run for political office as an independent, is facing trial on 31 December on similar charges.

“We urge the authorities in Viet Nam to immediately release all these individuals as well as the many others arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression,” said Ms. Shamdasani, speaking in Geneva.

All five persons were arrested in 2020 and 2021, and OHCHR said the charges against them appeared to be part of a campaign to silence and intimidate those who speak out in defence of human rights.

‘Chilling effect’​

“All the cases follow similar worrying patterns that raise serious issues concerning the presumption of innocence, the legality of their detention, and the fairness of their trial,” Ms. Shamdasani told journalists.

“There is prolonged incommunicado pre-trial detention, prosecution under the vaguely worded offence of ‘spreading anti-State propaganda’, denial of access to legal counsel and closed trials that do not respect international fair trial standards.”

The UN human rights office has urged the Vietnamese Government to repeal all legal provisions that violate fundamental freedoms.

“Cases of this kind contribute to a climate of self-censorship in the country and have a chilling effect on media freedom,” said Ms. Shamdasani. “They also prevent people from exercising their fundamental rights and engaging in public debate on issues of importance.”

Harsh sentences​

Mr. Trinh and Ms. Nguyen, both land rights activists, were sentenced by a court in Viet Nam’s capital, Hanoi, on Wednesday, according to media reports.

Mr. Trinh received 10 years in prison and five on probation, while Ms. Nguyen will spend six years in prison, followed by three years’ probation.

A court in northern Viet Nam handed down a sentence of 10 years in prison, and four on probation, to Mr. Do on Thursday. He was found guilty of criticizing the government on social media, according to news reports.

Ms. Pham, a journalist, was jailed for nine years following sentencing by a court in Hanoi on Tuesday.

OHCHR said Mr. Le has been held since March, without access to a lawyer and without being allowed to meet his family.