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Dissidents hit with severe prison terms

National security is used as an excuse to imprison Vietnamese dissidents.
National security is used as an excuse to imprison Vietnamese dissidents.

via FJVN

Four Vietnamese bloggers, cyber-dissidents and human rights activists were sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison on 20 January, report the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and ARTICLE 19. The mock trial of dissidents occurred against a backdrop of relentless press freedom and free expression violations.

Human rights defender Le Cong Dinh was sentenced to five years in prison. A lawyer who has defended labour rights, democracy activists and bloggers, Dinh has also spoken out in favour of political pluralism and freedom of expression, says ARTICLE 19.

Pro-democracy activists Le Thang Long, Nguyen Tien Trung and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc were sentenced to five, seven and 16 years in prison, respectively. Long was given two years of house arrest and Dinh and Trung were sentenced to three years of house arrest on completing their jail terms, while Thuc was given five years of house arrest.

All four were convicted of "endangering national security" and "organising campaigns in collusion with reactionary organisations based abroad" that were "designed to overthrow the people's government... with the help of the Internet," according to RSF. Dinh and Trung were coerced into admitting to breaking the law and to being influenced by western values, but denied intending to overthrow the government. Thuc refused to admit his guilt, says RSF.

Relatives, diplomats and foreign journalists were barred from the courtroom and had to watch the trial from a television screen in an adjoining room, report the Free Journalist Network in Vietnam (FJNV) and RSF. During the trial, Thuc asked for a replacement of the jury and panel of adjudicators as they were all members of the Communist party - the trial is against alleged opposition members. He also testified that he had been physically and mentally abused during interrogations and that his statement was forced from him, reports FJNV. The judge did not permit him to finish providing evidence. Anytime defendants spoke, their microphones became inaudible. The court came to its decision without examining all the evidence or listening to objections by the defendants.

On the day of the trial, several bloggers and other dissidents were picked up by security police and detained for 14 hours, mobile phones were jammed and prominent human rights and pro-democracy activists were under surveillance by plain clothes police, reports FJVN. Independent media, blog spots and websites were also shut down at the time.

Three other cyber-dissidents were sentenced on 19 January to three- to four-year prison terms: poet Pham Van Troi, former teacher Vu Van Hung and poet Tran Duc Thach.

Vietnam takes over the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year. It will also set the agenda for a new ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). But it must "prove its sincerity, credibility, and worth," says SEAPA.

RSF urged "the European Union to suspend its human rights dialogue with Vietnam until the activists are released" and "ASEAN to express its mounting concern following the latest sentences."

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