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Sentencing of high profile activist opens landmark struggle, says Human Rights Watch

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Bangkok, May 26, 2011 - The imprisonment of Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu on anti-government propaganda charges has only raised the fervor of a remarkable outpouring of popular support for his release, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Vu, 53, who was sentenced to seven years in prison in April 2011, has extraordinarily broad support among diverse sectors of Vietnamese society. He has become a cause célèbre through the power of the internet, creating an unprecedented human rights challenge to the Vietnamese government, Human Rights Watch said.

The 59-page report, "Vietnam: The Party vs. Legal Activist Cu Huy Ha Vu," describes the unique elements that have made this Vietnam's most high-profile political trial in decades. They include Vu's legal challenges to promote human rights, official accountability, and environmental protection against the country's political elite, including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Vu's family's revolutionary credentials and his own elite background make him one of the most prominent people to have publicly questioned the rule of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV).

"Dr. Vu's conviction is yet another black mark on Vietnam's dismal human rights record and shows that the government will go to whatever lengths necessary to silence a prominent critic," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "But in their appetite for retribution, the Vietnamese authorities may have bitten off more than they can chew."

After Vu's arrest in November 2010, his family initiated a tenacious public advocacy campaign for his release that led to an unprecedented expression of popular support for Vu from religious groups, influential bloggers, prominent retired army officials, and ordinary citizens.

Domestic outcry over Vu's trial has saturated Vietnamese-language blogs, webpages, and online publications. Within days after the trial, the popular website Bauxite Vietnam initiated an online petition calling for the nullification of the trial and the immediate release of Vu. In only three weeks, the "Petition to Free Citizen Cu Huy Ha Vu" was signed by nearly 2,000 people, many of them in Vietnam. They include senior communist party members, retired high-ranking army officers, government officials, white-collar professionals, artists, journalists, academics, members of religious congregations, and ordinary workers and farmers. At least a dozen people report that they have been harassed by the police for signing the petition.

The US State Department expressed "deep concern" over the trial's proceedings and its outcome, and added that the case "raises serious questions about Vietnam's commitment to rule of law and reform. No individual should be imprisoned for exercising the right to free speech." The European Union said, "This conviction is not consistent with the fundamental right of all persons to hold opinions and freely and peacefully express them."

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To read the full press release, click here
"Vietnam: The Party vs. Legal Activist Cu Huy Ha Vu" is available here
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