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Vietnam convicts 13 pro-democracy activists

Defendants stand at a court in Nghe An province on 9 January 2013; 13 political activists were found guilty of anti-state crimes and sentenced to prison
Defendants stand at a court in Nghe An province on 9 January 2013; 13 political activists were found guilty of anti-state crimes and sentenced to prison

REUTERS/Nguyen Van Nhat/Vietnam News Agency

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 9 January 2013 - ARTICLE 19 condemns the jailing of thirteen pro-democracy activists in Vietnam and calls on the authorities to release them immediately. The men and women were convicted of "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration" under Article 79 of the penal code.

The criminal activities the group are said to have engaged in include writing commentary that is critical of the Government and distributing this on the internet, and both participating in and encouraging peaceful protest.

ARTICLE 19 believes that these activities should not be considered to be criminal. The Vietnamese authorities have failed to recognise basic human rights and these convictions fail to meet international standards freedom of expression.

"Thirteen people are now behind bars for doing nothing more than expressing legitimate political concerns. They have been locked away for sharing views about matters of public importance on the internet and for taking part in peaceful demonstrations. These are not things which should be considered criminal. It seems that the real crime here is the appalling abuse of fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of expression, by the state," said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

"This is yet another stain on Vietnam's already blotted human rights record. It is part of a larger trend to silence opposition voices and entrench conformity to the Party line. The Vietnamese authorities should release these people immediately." she added.

Fourteen men and women appeared in court in total facing charges of breaching national security, in what was the biggest ever trial of pro-democracy activists in Vietnam.

The group, many of them bloggers and citizen journalists and the majority of them Catholic, were arrested between August and December 2011 and held for more than a year before standing trial.

BACKGROUND:

On 8 January, ARTICLE 19 reported that the Vietnamese authorities had charged the men and women under Article 79 of Vietnamese Penal Code, a provision that relates to national security.

ARTICLE 19 noted that since July 2011, the Vietnamese government has instituted a new wave of crackdowns on Catholic activists in particular. Twelve of those who were tried are Catholic Redemptorists and come from the Catholic Diocese of Vinh City, a Catholic parish in Vietnam that has suffered continued harassment and monitoring by the authorities.

Of the fourteen human rights defenders, three are charged as "organizers, instigators, and active participants" under Clause 1 of Article 79.

Paulus Le Son is a blogger and writer for Vietnam Redemptorist News. He is also an active community organiser, focusing on issues such as HIV and public education.

Ho Duc Hoa is a community organiser and a contributing writer for Vietnam Redemptorist News.

Dang Xuan Dieu
is an engineer and community organiser, active in mobilising access to education for poor students and assistance for victims of typhoons and disabled persons. He is also a contributing citizen journalist for Vietnam Redemptorist News.

The remaining eight human rights defenders were charged as "accomplices" under Clause 2 of Article 79:

Nguyen Dinh Cuong is an activist with the John Paul II Group for Pro-Life. He also participated in protests against local government seizure of church lands.

Nguyen Van Duyet is the President of the Association of Catholic Workers of Vinh in Hanoi. He also attended courses in citizen journalism organized by Vietnam Redemptorist News and regularly writes for the media network, recently covering the trial of legal scholar Cu Huy Ha Vu.

Nguyen Van Oai attended the citizen journalism training of the Vietnam Redemptorist News and helped report on the anti-China protests in Vietnam during summer 2011.

Nong Hung Anh is a fourth year student at Hanoi University, studying foreign languages. He writes for prominent blogs such as boxitvn.net, a widely popular site founded by environmental activists and baokhongle.wordpress.com.

Nguyen Xuan Anh is a martial arts instructor from Vinh City and is married with two children. After his arrest, security police raided his home.

Ho Van Oanh was previously detained in April 2011 while trying to attend the trial of legal scholar Cu Huy Ha Vu.

Thai Van Dung was arrested for attending citizen journalism courses hosted by the Vietnam Redemptorist News.

Tran Minh Nhat is a writer for the Vietnam Redemptorist News. He was arrested at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology.

Dang Ngoc Minh is a housewife and mother of Nguyen Dang Minh Man and Nguyen Dang Vinh Phuc (both who are also defendants in the same trial), and was arrested in August 2011 for participating in training workshops.

Nguyen Dang Minh Man was also arrested on August 2011 for participating in training workshops.

Nguyen Dang Vinh Phuc was arrested for participating in training workshops.

WHAT OTHER IFEX MEMBERS ARE SAYING:

Vietnam: release convicted activists (Human Rights Watch)

The conviction and prison sentences of 14 activists by the People's Court of Nghe An province on January 9, 2013, marks a sharp escalation of government attacks on critics, Human Rights Watch said. Thirteen of those convicted were sentenced to serve prison terms ranging individually from 3 to 13 years, to be followed by periods of up to five years of controlled residence. One [Nguyen Dang Vinh Phuc] was given a three-year conditionally suspended sentence, making him easily vulnerable to re-arrest.

Vietnam continues crackdown on free speech with conviction of 14 activists (Freedom House)

Freedom House is concerned by reports that several family members and supporters of the activists who peacefully gathered outside the courthouse were harassed, assaulted, and detained by police officers.

Bloggers imprisoned in mass sentencing in Vietnam
(Committee to Protect Journalists)

"These harsh sentences demonstrate the outrageous lengths that Vietnamese authorities are willing to go to suppress independent reporting," said CPJ. "We call on the authorities to reverse these convictions and release all journalists currently held behind bars on spurious national security-related charges."

Free expression in danger as bloggers and activists go on trial in Vietnam (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

RSF can prove innocence of convicted blogger Paulus Le Son (Reporters Without Borders)

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