Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Van Hoa
A Vietnamese court jailed blogger Nguyen Van Hoa for seven years on 27 November. He was found guilty of disseminating anti-state 'propaganda' including articles which supported protests against a Taiwanese firm responsible for a toxic leak. VIETNAM NEWS AGENCY/AFP/Getty Images

A Vietnamese blogger has been jailed for seven years for reporting on a chemical spill that poisoned around 125 miles of the country's central coastline in 2016.

On Wednesday (27 November), Nguyen Van Hoa, 22, was found guilty of disseminating anti-state 'propaganda' in the form of videos and written reports about protests against the spill.

The disaster occurred in April 2016 when hundreds of people became ill from eating poisoned fish.

It emerged several months later that a steel factory owned by Taiwanese Formosa Ha Tinh Steel Corporation had leaked chemicals into the adjacent South China Sea.

More than 200,000 people working in the region were directly affected by the poisoning, according to the Vietnamese ministry of labour.

Formosa took responsibility for the spill, which is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in the country's history, and agreed to pay $500m in damages.

The payment has done little to appease many Vietnamese, whose communities were devastated in the disaster. In April, on the first anniversary of the spill, thousands of people occupied beaches, roads and public buildings throughout Vietnam, demanding justice.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IBTimes UK: "By throwing citizen journalist and blogger Nguyen Van Hoa in prison for daring to expose Formosa's devastating chemical dumping that destroyed the coastal and marine environment in four provinces, Vietnam is displaying outrageous disdain for press freedom and human rights, and prioritizing the interests of foreign investors over the quality of its own people's lives."

Reporters without Borders (RSF) also denounced the verdict. "We firmly condemn this totally disproportionate sentence," said Daniel Bastard, Asia-Pacific director at RSF. "Not even [Hoa's] family was warned that this trial was going to take place. Such drastic action confirms the intransigence of Vietnam's refusal to tolerate any reporting freedom. Vietnam's commercial partners should draw the appropriate conclusions."

"This is an extreme reaction and sheds light on a country that is all to often overlooked when it comes to media freedom in the region, despite being amongst the most restrictive," Jemimah Steinfeld, deputy editor of the Index on Censorship magazine, told IBTimes UK.

"Index is very concerned about this increased government focus on censoring social media and what this means for freedom of expression for everyone in Vietnam, and in particular journalists and bloggers," she said.

Hoa is the second blogger to be jailed for reporting on the protests against Formosa. In June, blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, better known as Mother Mushroom, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for writing about the spill.

protest Vietnam chemical spill
Protesters gather in Hanoi, Vietnam to demonstrate against a unit of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics, a firm they blame for causing an environmental disaster and the death of large numbers of fish in central coast provinces in April 2016. REUTERS/Kham