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Vietnamese blogger imprisoned for filming chemical spill protests released — Radio Free Asia

A Vietnamese journalist and prisoner-of-conscience serving a seven-year sentence was released from prison on Thursday and has already returned to central Ha Tinh province for a homecoming celebration with family and friends.

Nguyen Van Hoa, 28, regularly contributed to Radio Free Asia as a blogger and video producer prior to his January 2017 arrest on “abusing democratic freedoms” charges.

Authorities detained him just after he filmed protests outside the Taiwan-owned Formosa Plastics Group steel plant. A 2016 spill at the facility polluted more than 125 miles of coastline, killed an estimated 115 tons of fish, and left tourism industry workers and fishermen jobless in four central provinces.

A relative of Hoa’s said on a personal social media account that there were “fresh beautiful bouquets from friends, relatives and faraway ones on the homecoming day. Happiness in laughs and some cries.”

Nguyen Van Hoa stands trial at a local people’s court in the central province of Ha Tinh, Vietnam in 2017. (Vietnam News Agency/AFP)

RFA President Bay Fang said in a statement that Hoa “was unjustly imprisoned in Vietnam for seven years and subject to abuse by prison authorities.”

“While we are relieved Nguyen Van Hoa is no longer behind bars, his safety and well-being remains an ongoing concern,” she said. “As such, we hope he receives proper and just treatment as he transitions to a new life.”

Discriminatory treatment in prison

Hoa was the first person to broadcast live footage of protests outside Formosa’s steel plant in Ha Tinh using a flycam drone. In October 2016, his video of more than 10,000 peaceful protesters went viral.

Several months after his arrest, some 20 international human rights and cyber security organizations signed a letter urging Vietnam to immediately set him free.

Hoa was convicted in November 2017 on an upgraded and more severe charge of “conducting propaganda against the state.”

The seven-year sentence was condemned by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, with the head of its Asia-Pacific desk, Daniel Bastard, calling it “totally disproportionate.”

During prison visits, Hoa told relatives that he had been beaten by a police official who urged him to testify at the 2018 trial of an environmental activist.

Hoa also told family members that he went on a two-week hunger strike in 2019 to protest discriminatory treatment by prison guards. Later in 2019, he was beaten, had his feet cuffed for 10 days and was held in isolation for six months, Hoa told relatives during a visit.

Hoa also did a hunger strike in 2020 to protest conditions in his detention camp.

Translated by RFA Vietnamese Service. Edited by Matt Reed.


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