According to the courts, Hoá was found guilty of spreading anti-state propaganda by producing video and writing about protests on the spill, the New York Times reported.
The spill, which came from a subsidiary of Taiwan's Formosa Plastics, led to the death of marine life and sickened dozens of people throughout four provinces along the Vietnamese coastline after a steel factory flushed a combination of chemicals, including cyanide, into the ocean.
Since the verdict was announced, critics have rejected the notion that Hoá did anything wrong.
"The sentencing of Nguyễn Văn Hoá shows how profoundly the government's paranoid desire to maintain political control trumps notions of justice and human rights," Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, told the Times. "How else can one explain that executives of an international firm that poisoned the ocean, ruining the coastal economy in four provinces, are free to go about their business while this idealistic young journalist is heading to prison for helping expose their misdeeds?"
Hoá's sentence is just the tip of the iceberg, though. Nguyễn Ngọc Như Quỳnh, another critic of the Formosa incident, was sentenced in June to 10 years in prison for the same reasons as Hoa — for publishing "propaganda against the state."
Incidentally, Võ An Đôn, Quỳnh's lawyer, was also barred from practicing law after the Bar Federation in the Phú Yên province revoked his license Monday.
"The government does not want me to work as a lawyer anymore because I have been defending poor people, people who were unjustly charged… cases that are sensitive in Vietnam," Đôn told Reuters.
Though government officials were initially tight-lipped on the matter, even going as far as withholding the names of the toxins from doctors treating poisoned victims, they later ordered the steel company to pay $500 million for triggering the disaster.
And yet, despite the government's attempt to balance its concerns, it has also proclaimed that anyone involved in anti-Formosa protests will be prosecuted for "causing public disorder."
Hoá, who was first arrested in April, is just one of several activists who use Facebook and other social media platforms to voice injustices occurring in Vietnam.