HANOI: A Vietnamese student was sentenced Wednesday (Oct 25) to six years in prison for anti-state propaganda, as the government tightens its grip on critics before an Asia-Pacific summit in the country next month.
Scores of dissidents are already behind bars in the communist state, and rights groups say 2017 has been a particularly harsh year for activists with a spate of arrests and heavy jail sentences.
Phan Kim Khanh, 24, was sentenced for anti-state activities, his lawyer told AFP, blasting the trial as "biased".
"The court decided to put him in jail for six years and another four years on probation afterwards," Ha Huy Son said.
Khanh was arrested in March during his final year of an international studies degree at Thai Nguyen University in northern Vietnam.
He reportedly ran several blogs and YouTube channels where he voiced opinions on corruption and politics.
Son said his client was calm in court Wednesday as he apologised for what he had done.
His sister told AFP Khanh had not broken the law.
"We did not know what he did. But I think he's innocent," Phan Thi Trang said.
Khanh joins scores of dissidents already behind bars.
There is no independent media in the country, though bloggers and activists have become increasingly vocal on social media in recent years.
Analysts say authorities have ramped up a clampdown on activists before an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November.
Others say the current conservative leadership in power since last year has become bolder in pursuing its critics since the election of US President Donald Trump.
Trump's administration has been accused of turning its back on human rights while seeking overseas trade deals.
Human Rights Watch said foreign governments should put pressure on Vietnam at the APEC meeting.
"International donors and trade partners need to step up pressure on the country's leaders to improve its abysmal rights record, and the APEC summit is a good moment to start," HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.
The group said at least 28 people have been arrested for "vaguely-interpreted" national security violations over the past year.