04/22/2020, 15.35
VIETNAM
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Music teacher Nguyễn Năng Tĩnh, on a hunger strike because he was not allowed to see a priest, gets 11 years in prison

by Joseph Trich

The appeal trial took place amid the ongoing epidemic. Tĩnh’s wife was unable to be in the courtroom due to country-wide travel restrictions. Nguyễn Năng Tĩnh, 44, defended Vietnam against industrial pollution and China's abuses in the South China Sea. His patriotism has been branded “propaganda against the state”.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – On Monday, an appeal court in Nghe An (north-central Vietnam) upheld the guilty verdict of music teacher Nguyễn Năng Tĩnh (pictured) who, a year ago, was sentenced to 11 years in prison and five under house arrest.

Nguyễn Năng Tĩnh, 44, taught music at a provincial arts and culture college in Nghe An. He went on a hunger strike during Lent until his appeal was heard because prison guards would not allow him to see a priest.

In Vietnam he is well known for teaching young people songs considered taboo, like ‘Trả Lại Cho Dân’ (Return to the people) or ‘Việt Nam Tôi Đâu’ (Where is my Vietnam?), which praise the country’s culture and independence from Chinese influence.

In order to stand up for Vietnamese sovereignty against Chinese encroachment, he took part in a protest centred on defending Paracel and Spratly Islands and against concessions made to Beijing in special economic zones.

He was also involved in protests against the Formosa Ha Tinh Steel, a company that release toxic waste into the sea, polluting four Vietnamese provinces.

Tĩnh was arrested on 29 May 2019 and jailed in Nghi Kim prison, Vinh. On 15 November, 2019, a lower court in Nghe An sentenced him to 11 years in prison and five years under house arrest on charges of “making, distributing, and disseminating propaganda against the state”.

In his final plea, the music teacher said: “I long for a free and democratic country. I worry for the destiny of our country and people. I am worried about the poisoned environment in which people live. I cannot be insensitive [. . .] to the loss of national sovereignty and the threat of aggression by the Chinese government."

Moved by patriotism and self-assurance, Tĩnh launched an appeal on 28 November 2019, set for this Monday. However, the court upheld the original verdict and sentence.

Tinh's wife, Maria, was unable to attend the trial because of travel restrictions imposed to control the coronavirus outbreak. On her Facebook account, she noted that her husband went on a hunger strike for 46 days, from 3 March to 17 April.

“My husband is Catholic,” she writes. “In prison he asked to meet a priest to prepare his soul for Lent and Holy Week. But prison officials refused to meet his spiritual needs. So he went on a 46-day hunger strike.”

In her view, the trial was "a farce" and a risk to her husband because of his weakened physical state caused by the hunger strike, this during a time of epidemic. "The court was insensitive,” she said. “They want to kill my husband.”

After the appeal trial, “My husband asked again to see a priest. If that fails, he will go on a hunger strike again and this could be fatal.”

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