Authorities in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam have handed a dubious 7-year-jail term to Nguyen Van Hoa, an Internet-based activist, for reporting on a dangerous toxic chemical spill in the country.
Hoa, 22, spent extensive time on the Internet raising awareness and demanding accountability about a chemical spill that happened in central coastal areas of Vietnam last year. The spill had devastating impact on human, environmental and marine species.
A Taiwan-owned steel company, Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation, allegedly flushed toxic chemicals, including the deadly Cyanide, via a waste pipeline into the ocean. As a result of the spill, fishermen in the area lost their livelihood, many marine animals were killed, and people along a stretch of 120 miles of coastline became sick.
The government initially refused to disclose basic details about the spill, but later admitted that Formosa Ha Tinh has caused the largest environmental disaster in Vietnam and ordered it to pay $500 million for damages. Pham Thi Phi, a resident of one of the affected villages told The New York Times last year:
“We are so angry. If we knew who put the poison in the ocean, we would like to kill them. We really need to have an answer from the government on whether the ocean is totally clean and the fish are safe to eat.”
Because the tragedy was worth recognition, Hoa had been uploading videos and articles about protests over the toxic spill. But since the government had already started silencing people who were demanding accountability and justice for the environmental and human costs of the disaster, it saw him as a threat and ordered his arrest.
Hoa was briefly held in detention in Ha Tinh Province before being found guilty of spreading “anti-state propaganda”. He was then handed the 7-year-jail term.
Hoa’s sentence has attracted international attention. Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, remarked:
“The sentencing of Nguyen Van Hoa shows how profoundly the government’s paranoid desire to maintain political control trumps notions of justice and human rights. How else can one explain that executives of an international firm that poisoned the ocean, ruining the coastal economy in four provinces, are free to go about their business while this idealistic young journalist is heading to prison for helping expose their misdeeds?”
Hoa is not the first Internet-based activist to have been jailed over the spill. In June 2016, Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, known popularly as Mother Mushroom, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for writing about the disaster.