November 28, 2019 / 12:18 PM / 17 days ago

UPDATE 1-Vietnam jails three more activists in crackdown on Facebook posts

* Vietnam cracking down on anti-government posts on Facebook

* Number of activists jailed this month alone rises to five

* Rights groups decry "climate of fear" in Vietnam (Recasts to add sentencing of two more activists)

HANOI, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Vietnam has jailed three more people for anti-government posts on social media platform Facebook deemed to defame the ruling Communist Party and the government, state media and police said on Thursday, bringing the total imprisoned this month to five.

Despite its sweeping economic reforms and openness to social change, the party does not tolerate criticism and its leader, Nguyen Phu Trong, has intensified a crackdown on dissidents and activists since being re-elected in 2016.

Pham Van Diep, a 54-year-old activist from the northern province of Thanh Hoa, was jailed for nine years for spreading "distorted information defaming the Communist Party and the Vietnamese government", the Vietnam News Agency (VNA) said.

"He also spread fake and baseless news about the country's policies, which caused Facebook users and residents to misunderstand the party and the government," it added.

The posts were uploaded between April 2014 and June 2019, VNA said, adding that he had also been jailed for 21 months in Laos for spreading anti-Vietnamese literature there in 2016.

Separately, a court in the southern province of Dong Nai jailed a brother and sister on Thursday for a combination of 14 years on similar charges of anti-government posts on Facebook, the provincial police said in a statement on its website.

A spokesman for rights group Amnesty International said previously that at least 16 people had been arrested, detained or convicted this year for anti-government posts on Facebook. That figure does not include the three latest cases.

Another 12 political prisoners remain behind bars on similar charges, the spokesman said.

"CLIMATE OF FEAR"

In the other cases this month, a music teacher was jailed for 11 years on Nov. 15 over anti-state posts on Facebook and a 38-year-old man was jailed for broadcasts of 33 live video sessions.

The broadcasts aimed to "encourage people to participate in protests during national holidays", a court said.

Late last month, a 54-year-old architect was jailed for a year over the same charge.

Widely used in Vietnam, Facebook serves as the main platform both for e-commerce and the expression of political dissent. In May Facebook said it had increased more than sixfold the content in Vietnam to which it restricted access in the last half of 2018.

Amnesty and New York-based Human Rights Watch have decried curbs on freedom of expression that leave people facing arrest and jail for voicing their opinion, and have also urged Hanoi to halt a crackdown on an independent publisher.

"This crackdown has further exacerbated the prevailing climate of fear in Vietnam," the rights groups said in a joint statement on Wednesday. (Reporting by James Pearson Editing by Gareth Jones)

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