A Vietnamese court jailed two renowned musicians for up to six years for anti-state propaganda, one of their lawyers said on Tuesday, a decision rights groups branded an “outrageous” muzzling of free speech.
Viet Khang, whose real name is Vo Minh Tri, was given a four-year jail term while Tran Vu Anh Binh, 37, was handed a six-year sentence, lawyer Tran Vu Hai told reporters after a short trial in Ho Chi Minh City.
The court ordered the pair to serve a further two years under house arrest once they are released from jail, Hai said, adding that the musicians had admitted links to a banned political group but had “no political intention”.
The court did not provide details of their supposed crimes when contacted by reporters.
But Khang, 34, is widely known for song lyrics that condemn a police crackdown on anti-China activists and touch on other social justice issues.
Several of Binh’s songs – including one attributed to him that rails against the imprisonment of dissidents – have also been performed by other singers in the secretive communist nation.
Hai told reporters that a request to play the songs in court was turned down by the judge.
Reports said the two were arrested late last year following a government crackdown on increasingly vociferous anti-China movements, spurred by a row over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
They were charged with Article 88 of the criminal code, which allows a maximum jail term of 20 years to those convicted of anti-state activities.
Rights groups say it is one of several articles targeted specifically at dissidents.
“Jailing song-writers is an outrageous new turn of events that reveals the totality of the government’s intolerance for those raising uncomfortable issues,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Asia.
“The international community can no longer stand by quietly as these free speech activists are picked off one by one by Vietnam’s security apparatus.”
Last month, a court in southern Vietnam jailed three bloggers for up to 12 years for “anti-state propaganda” at a brief but dramatic hearing, prompting objection from the United States, EU and international rights groups.