US criticises Vietnam for jailing pro-democracy activists

Posted on January 9, 2013

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Court in Nghe An province finds 14 people guilty of subversion due to links with US-based dissident group Viet Tan

HANOI, Vietnam – A court in central Vietnam has found 14 democracy activists guilty of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from three to 13 years, amid an ongoing crackdown on peaceful dissent.

Defense lawyer Nguyen Thi Hue says the People’s Court in Nghe An province sentenced three defendants to 13 years during the two-day trial, which ended Wednesday. She says 11 others received jail terms ranging from three to eight years. One of the three-year terms was suspended.

Another defense lawyer, Tran Thu Nam, says the defendants, who were arrested in 2011, were found guilty of attending overseas training courses on nonviolent struggle and Internet security.

Self-defense cops dividing bonused money for attacking and preventing relatives of 14 democracy activists from attending the trial.

Self-defense cops dividing bonused money for attacking and preventing relatives of 14 democracy activists from attending the trial.

Activists Convicted in Vietnam Crackdown on Dissent

A court in central Vietnam convicted 14 democracy activists on Wednesday of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from three to 13 years in what human rights groups said was the largest subversion case to be brought in years.

The defendants are bloggers, writers and political and social activists who were accused of links to a banned pro-democracy group based in the United States that the government accuses of seeking to overthrow it.

Nguyen Thi Hue, a defense lawyer, told The Associated Press in Vietnam that three defendants in the two-day trial in the city of Vinh, in Nghe An province, had been sentenced to 13 years and that 11 others had received terms of three to eight years. One of the three-year terms was suspended.

The charges of “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration,” of “undermining of national unity” and of participating in “propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam” have often been brought against dissidents in a government crackdown that has waxed and waned over the years.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said this was the largest group to be brought to trial together in recent times. All were arrested in 2011 and had been in custody since then.

Nguyen Van Nhat/Vietnam News Agency, via Reuters - Democracy activists convicted of plotting to overthrow the Vietnamese government were sentenced to jail terms on Wednesday at a court in Nghe An province.

Nguyen Van Nhat/Vietnam News Agency, via Reuters –
Democracy activists convicted of plotting to overthrow the Vietnamese government were sentenced to jail terms on Wednesday at a court in Nghe An province.

“This is part of an ongoing, deepening crackdown we’ve been seeing for the past year and a half or two years,” Mr. Robertson said. “These people are bloggers, land activists, have attended or tried to attend dissident trials, have been involved in dissident activities including supporting poor people and people with disabilities.”

He added: “This is a message to other dissidents and bloggers that Vietnam means business.”

He said the defendants had been charged after attending a training course in Bangkok held by Viet Tan, an organization that in the 1980s led a resistance movement against the Vietnamese Communist government, but that for the past few decades has declared that it is committed to peaceful political reform, democracy and human rights in Vietnam.

The United States Embassy in Hanoi said in a statement that it was “deeply troubled” by the convictions and called them “part of a disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam.”

A number of the defendants are members of the Redemptorist group in the Roman Catholic Church, which has been engaged in community service and has taken up the causes of land seizures and corruption. Redemptorist activists have become increasingly assertive in Vietnamese movements for democracy and human rights, and some churches and parishes have become centers of dissent.

Some defendants have participated in peaceful protests in support of other dissidents who were on trial or in relation to China.

Protests have grown in recent years over China’s claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea and over a major bauxite plant run by China in Vietnam’s central highlands. The government has cracked down on demonstrations and Internet commentary for fear they could veer out of control and because of an antigovernment tone in many of them.

Five of the defendants had blogged in support of freedom of expression and of multiparty democracy, Human Rights Watch said. Before the trial, one of them, Dang Xuan Dieu, was quoted as saying, “I have done nothing contrary to my conscience” and that in punishing him, the government was “trampling on the eternal good morals of the Vietnamese nation.”

As the Vietnamese economy grows fitfully and its expanding middle class becomes more lively and engaged, the government has carried out vigorous campaigns to police the Internet and curb public demonstrations.

In a New Year’s address that assessed the gains and shortcomings of Vietnam’s leadership, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung restated the government’s concern that conspirators continued to threaten to undermine it.

“We are regularly challenged by conspiracies to spark sociopolitical instability and violate our national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.

On Tuesday, for example, as the dissident trial was getting under way in central Vietnam, the daily Vietnam News reported that a woman had been sentenced in Ho Chi Minh City to 42 months in prison for “activities against the state.”

The newspaper said the woman, Lo Thanh Thao, 36, had “scattered propaganda leaflets” and “stuck them inside several buildings” in Ho Chi Minh City. It did not report the content of the leaflets.

In the most high-profile recent conviction, a prominent Vietnamese legal scholar who had sued the prime minister and called for multiparty democracy was convicted in April 2011 of propaganda against the state and sentenced to seven years in prison and another three years under house arrest.

The conviction of the scholar, Cu Huy Ha Vu, then 53, the son of a Communist revolutionary and a well-known poet, was one of dozens involving Vietnamese lawyers and activists over recent years.

Last March, two Catholic activists were sentenced to five and three years in prison for distributing what the indictment called antigovernment leaflets.

In September, three prominent bloggers received long prison terms. Among them was Nguyen Van Hai, who wrote under the name Dieu Cay, who was sent to prison for 12 years.

He was among several detained journalists mentioned by President Obama in a speech on World Press Freedom Day last May. Mr. Obama said the blogger’s first arrest, in 2008, had “coincided with a mass crackdown on citizen journalism in Vietnam.”

New York Times
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A Vietnamese court has been criticised by the US after it found 14 pro-democracy activists guilty of subversion and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from three to 13 years.

The long prison terms suggest the country’s Communist government is intent on stepping up its crackdown on dissenters to its authoritarian, one-party rule – particularly online.

The defendants are linked to Viet Tan, a Vietnamese dissident group based in the US. Vietnam has labelled it a terrorist group, but the US government says it has seen no evidence it advocates violence.

The court in central Nghe An province sentenced three defendants to 13 years during the two-day trial, which ended on Wednesday, according to defence lawyer Nguyen Thi Hue. She said 11 others received jail terms ranging from three to eight years. One of the three-year terms was suspended. The defendants, who include 12 Catholics, were arrested in late 2011.

Another defence lawyer, Tran Thu Nam, said they were found guilty of attending Viet Tan’s overseas training courses on nonviolent struggle and computer and online security. Some also protested against China’s territorial claims in the disputed South China sea, a sensitive issue for Vietnam because of the nationalist passion the issue provokes and Hanoi’s ideological ties with Beijing.

The US wants closer ties with Vietnam because it sees it as a foil against China’s power, but Hanoi’s human rights record is a barrier. In December, human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan was arrested. Last year, more than a dozen activists were sentenced to lengthy jail terms.

The US embassy said Wednesday’s verdicts were “part of a disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam”.

“We call on the government to release these individuals and all other prisoners of conscience immediately,” it said in a statement.

Viet Tan said citizen journalists had been restricted by police to their hotel rooms during the trial.

“These activists have tirelessly advocated for social justice, engaged in citizen journalism and participated in peaceful demonstrations against Chinese territorial encroachment,” it said in a statement. “The Hanoi regime has shown once again its fear of civil society.”

Guardian

Vietnamese activists accused of subversion go on trial

Fourteen activists have gone on trial in central Vietnam on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

Prosecutors have accused them of working with an exiled group in the US, the Viet Tan, which is labelled by the government as a terrorist organisation.

The defendants, most of whom are Catholics, were arrested in 2011 and are accused of attending courses organised by the Viet Tan.

Verdicts and sentences in the trial are expected on Wednesday.

Correspondents say that while the severest punishment for subversion in Vietnam is the death penalty, it is not expected that any of the accused – who are also alleged to have been involved in in anti-China demonstrations – will be condemned to die.

The government has been accused repeatedly by overseas critics of stepping up repression.

An annual round of dialogue on human rights between Vietnam and the US was cancelled in December because of Washington’s concerns about Hanoi’s worsening rights record.

The state-controlled media has made little or no mention of the trial, which overseas activists said was one of the largest of its kind. The Communist Party forbids all political debate outside of its auspices.

Charges against those accused of spreading anti-state propaganda and attempting to overthrow the government are often made against dissidents.

An appeals court in December upheld the sentences of two prominent bloggers jailed in September for “anti-state propaganda”.

It ruled that the sentences and convictions of writer Nguyen Van Hai and former policewoman Ta Phong Tan should not be overturned.

They received 12 and 10 years in jail respectively after a brief trial.

BBC

Vietnam jails 14 activists in new crackdown

HANOI – Vietnam on Wednesday jailed 14 activists convicted of plotting to overthrow the communist regime, in a new crackdown criticised by the United States as part of a “disturbing” trend in the authoritarian state.

The defendants deny all charges in the case in which a verdict is expected on Wednesday

The defendants deny all charges in the case in which a verdict is expected on Wednesday

The accused – including Catholics, bloggers and students – were handed sentences ranging from three to 13 years, defence lawyer Ha Huy Son told AFP.

Another defendant received a three-year suspended sentence, which in Vietnam equates to house arrest. Many of the accused have been held in pre-trial detention for extended periods.

The court in north-central Nghe An province ruled that all of the accused had links to the US-based Viet Tan opposition group, which the communist country considers a terrorist organisation.

The US embassy said it was “deeply troubled” by the sentences, which follow the recent detention of prominent Catholic dissident lawyer Le Quoc Quan as well as the upholding of long jail terms for three high-profile bloggers.

The latest convictions “are part of a disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam”, it said in a statement released after the verdict.

“We call on the government to release these individuals and all other prisoners of conscience immediately,” the US statement added.

Critics say charges of spreading anti-state propaganda and attempting to overthrow the regime are routinely laid against peaceful dissidents in a country where the Communist Party forbids political debate.

“The court did not have objective evidence to find them guilty of the charge,” lawyer Son said.

Viet Tan, which says it is a peaceful pro-democracy group, condemned what it described as the “arbitrary conviction of 14 human rights defenders”, and said it would continue to lobby for their release.

The US wants to build its ties with former enemy Vietnam, but is troubled by the Hanoi government's record of suppressing dissent. Photograph: Kham/Reuters

The US wants to build its ties with former enemy Vietnam, but is troubled by the Hanoi government’s record of suppressing dissent. Photograph: Kham/Reuters

Family members expressed dismay at the ruling.

“There was no evidence to charge them. The verdict was illogical,” said Dinh Thi Oanh, whose husband Nguyen Xuan Anh was given a three-year sentence.

Rights campaigners say dozens of peaceful political activists have been jailed since Vietnam, a one-party state, began a new crackdown on free expression in late 2009.

“The conviction of yet more peaceful activists is another example of a government that is increasingly afraid of the opinions of its own people,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Last month Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung ordered a new crackdown on online dissent, telling authorities to fight against anyone using the Internet to “defame and spread propaganda against the party and state”.

In another in a string of convictions, a court in southern Ho Chi Minh City on Tuesday sentenced a 36-year-old woman to three and a half years in jail for “anti-state propaganda”.

Asia One

Vietnam finds 14 activists guilty of subversion

A Vietnamese court found 14 democracy activists guilty of subversion and sentenced them Wednesday to jail terms ranging from three to 13 years, verdicts which drew immediate criticism from the United States.

The long prison terms suggest that the Communist government is intent on stepping up its ongoing crackdown on people who publicly challenge its authoritarian, one-party rule. In recent years, the Internet has emerged as a powerful tool for dissidents, alarming many in the ruling elite at a time of economic uncertainty.

The defendants are linked to Viet Tan, a Vietnamese dissident group based in the United States. Vietnam’s government has labeled it a terrorist group, but the U.S. government has said it has seen no evidence that it advocates violence.

The People’s Court in central Nghe An province sentenced three defendants to 13 years during the two-day trial, defense lawyer Nguyen Thi Hue said. She said 11 others received jail terms ranging from three to eight years. One of the three-year terms was suspended.

The defendants, including 12 Catholics, were arrested in late 2011.

Another defense lawyer, Tran Thu Nam, said they were found guilty of attending Viet Tan’s overseas training courses on nonviolent struggle and computer and Internet security. Some also protested against China’s territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea, a sensitive issue for Vietnam because of the nationalist passion the issue provokes and Hanoi’s ideological ties with Beijing.

The United States wants closer ties with Vietnam because it sees it as a foil against China, but Hanoi’s human rights record is a barrier. In December, human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan was arrested. Last year, more than a dozen activists were sentenced to long jail terms.

The U.S. Embassy said Wednesday’s verdicts are “part of a disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam.”

“We call on the government to release these individuals and all other prisoners of conscience immediately,” it said in a statement.

Viet Tan said citizen journalists in the town had been restricted by police to their hotel rooms during the trial.

“These activists have tirelessly advocated for social justice, engaged in citizen journalism and participated in peaceful demonstrations against Chinese territorial encroachment,” it said in a statement. “The Hanoi regime has shown once again its fear of civil society. ”

Fremont Tribune