HANOI (Reuters) - A Vietnamese court sentenced five journalists to prison terms and banned them from working for three years, state media reported on Thursday, after they were convicted of spreading anti-state content on a Facebook-based news outlet.
They were found guilty of "abusing democratic rights and freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state" at a two-day trial in the southern city of Can Tho, state-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA) said.
The journalists set up a news outlet called Bao Sach (Clean Newspaper) on Facebook, which, according to the indictment cited by VNA, carried content that distorted information and defamed the government.
"The acts committed by the defendants also caused confusion, suspicion among the people," it said.
They were the latest Facebook users jailed over "anti-state" posts in Vietnam, where the government tightly controls media and information and has little tolerance of criticism.
Truong Chau Huu Danh, a former reporter and the leader of the group, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison while the other defendants were given jail terms of between two and three years, VNA said.
They are also barred from working in the media for three years after their release, VNA said.
Reuters could not immediately reach the court in Can Tho for comment.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, said Vietnam should not treat media as "enemies of the state".
"Throwing more citizen journalists into prison is not going to stop people from complaining, or demanding reforms in Vietnam," he said.
"The government should recognise that citizen journalists and independent media are allies of good governance."
(Editing by Martin Petty)