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Bloggers and writers sentenced to long prison terms

Dozens of dissidents have been arrested in Vietnam since September 2008 and, last week, nine Vietnamese bloggers and writers were charged with anti-government propaganda and sentenced to severe prison terms, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) of International PEN.

The bloggers were convicted for demanding greater political pluralism, democracy and respect for human rights, reports RSF. They had also been critical of Vietnam's policy towards China regarding territorial claims over the Paracel and Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The trials were delayed until after President Nguyen Minh Triet's visit to the UN General Assembly in New York on 25 September, according to RSF.

"If Vietnam's courts treat criticism of the government and calls for respect of human rights as national security violations and as defamatory propaganda, then these convictions are manifestly violations of free expression," RSF said.

RSF reports that Vu Hung was sentenced to three years in prison in Hanoi on 7 October 2009, and Pham Van Troi received a four-year sentence the next day. Six other bloggers were given jail sentences on the same charges in Haiphong on 9 October. Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a writer, got six years. Poet Nguyen Van Tinh and writer Nguyen Manh Son got three-and-a-half years. Poet Nguyen Van Tuc got four years. Student and writer Ngo Quynh got three years and human rights activist Nguyen Kim Nhan got two years, report WiPC and RSF.

According to WiPC, in 2006, Bloc 8406, a coalition of political parties and organisations formed to campaign for political reform. Nguyen Van Ly, a priest and writer arrested in February 2007, was sentenced to eight years for his involvement in this banned pro-democracy group.

Repression of scores of writers and activists in Vietnam is something that many people in the world do not normally see, says Human Rights Watch. This year six Vietnamese writers have received the prestigious Hellman/Hammett award, to shine a spotlight on a country where the government "harshly suppresses peaceful dissent, free speech, independent media, and open access to the Internet, and does everything it can to silence its critics," says Human Rights Watch.

Three of the awardees are under house arrest and the other three remain in prison. Pham Thanh Nghien and Tran Anh Kim are in prison, but are awaiting trial for their pro-democracy activities and writings, says Human Rights Watch. They have written about Vietnam's accommodating attitude toward China, endemic corruption, the rights of farmers, the state's religious intolerance, the need for political and prison reform, and other social justice issues.

Vietnam is one of the 12 countries that RSF has identified as Enemies of the Internet, ranking 168th out of 173 countries in the 2008 RSF press freedom index.

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