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Six cyber-dissidents were sentenced to harsh prison sentences in the past week in what Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF) is calling the worst crackdown since 2002.

RSF says the attack comes after a time when Vietnam was "pretending to be ready to open up" while negotiating its admission to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). "Now that international pressure has eased, the government is trying to snuff out Vietnam's fragile pro-democracy movement," RSF says.

Tran Quoc Hien, member of the pro-democracy movement Bloc 8406 and spokesperson for the United Workers-Farmers Organization (UWFO), was sentenced to five years in jail for "spreading anti-government propaganda" online and "endangering state security" on 14 May.

The group is named Bloc 8406 after the date, 8 April 2006, when it published its "Manifesto for Freedom and Democracy".

Human rights lawyers and internet writers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan were sentenced to five years and four years imprisonment respectively on 11 May, reports RSF and the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC). They were also found guilty of spreading anti-government propaganda for their activities in Bloc 8406, including signing a pro-democracy petition using their real names, says WiPC.

Nguyen Van Dai is one of Bloc 8406's leaders. He started a blog on the RSF website shortly before his arrest in March ( and often posts pro-democracy essays on foreign websites. According to WiPC, he was subjected to criticism by a "popular court" in February, in which authorities mobilised 200 residents from a Hanoi district to insult and denounce him for being a "traitor". Le Thi Cong Nhan is the spokesperson for the recently founded Vietnam Progression Party, and a Bloc 8406 member, says WiPC.

Three other activists were tried on 10 May and sentenced to jail for between three and five years, for using the Internet to spread propaganda against the Communist country, reports RSF.

Huynh Nguyen Dao, a journalist, Nguyen Bac Truyen, a businessman and Le Nguyen Sang, a doctor, were arrested in August 2006 for being members of the People's Democratic Party and campaigning online for political pluralism in Vietnam. The judge described their activities as "dangerous for society" and said they had "weakened the regime's authority." Prosecutors said they downloaded and distributed material originating from a U.S. citizen of Vietnamese origin, Cong Thanh Do, who was arrested in Vietnam and then expelled in August 2006.

The last major attack on online dissidents came in 2002 when six were arrested and sentenced to jail terms of up to 12 years, says RSF. Only one, Nguyen Vu Binh, is still behind bars. The others were released before Vietnam became a member of the WTO in November 2006.

RSF supports the open letter signed by former Czech dissident Vaclav Havel and a dozen other leading figures calling for their release and the release of Nguyen Van Ly, a Catholic priest who was arrested in March and convicted of propaganda against the government.

Visit these links:
- RSF:
- WiPC:
- Human Rights Watch on Bloc 8406:
- Amnesty International on Vietnam:
(15 May 2007)

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