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Injustice reigns as eight Vietnamese pro-democracy activists lose appeal

Family members and supporters rally to demand freedom for human rights defenders on 23 May 2013 in Vinh City, Vietnam
Family members and supporters rally to demand freedom for human rights defenders on 23 May 2013 in Vinh City, Vietnam

ARTICLE 19

UPDATE from Human Rights Watch: Vietnam: Rights abuses in the spotlight (4 June 2013)

Eight Vietnamese pro-democracy activists have lost an appeal against their conviction in January 2013 for "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration". The court in Vinh City upheld the convictions of all eight activists, reducing the sentences of four of the group. The activists were all part of a group of fourteen human rights defenders who were arrested in 2011 for 'criminal activities' that included writing critical commentary of the government, distributing these comments online, as well as participating in and encouraging protests.

ARTICLE 19 believes these convictions are a violation of the right to freedom of expression and calls for the immediate release of all fourteen activists.

"Despite the reduction of some sentences, eight people remain in prison because they dared to voice political criticism of the Vietnamese government. The decision of the court to uphold these convictions is a violation of the fundamental human right to freedom of expression. It is another dark day for the people of Vietnam, who continue to live in the shadow of fear from reprisals for expressing opinions that are critical of the ruling regime" said Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19.

During the closed trial, international observers were denied access to the court proceedings. There was a heavy police presence at the court, including both uniformed and plainclothes officers (some reports estimate around 200 in total) who blocked the entrance to the courthouse. The police also detained a number of supporters of the eight human rights defenders, including blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang, who was arrested while giving live updates.

The eight pro-democracy activists, many of whom are bloggers and citizen journalists, were charged under Article 79 of the Penal Code for "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration" - which allows for the protection of national security.

The court ruled:

Sentences unchanged:

* Ho Duc Hoa: 13 years in prison, 5 years house arrest
* Thai Van Dung: 4 years in prison, 3 years house arrest
* Tran Minh Nhat: 4 years in prison, 3 years house arrest
* Nguyen Dinh Cuong: 4 years in prison, 3 years house arrest

Sentences reduced:

* Paulus Le Son: 4 years in prison (from 13 years in prison, 5 years house arrest)
* Nguyen Xuan Anh: 2 years in prison (from 3 years)
* Ho Van Oanh: 2.5 years in prison (from 3 years)
* Nguyen Van Duyet: 3.5 years in prison (from 4 years)

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Government of Vietnam to immediately release the detained activists, quash the convictions for all fourteen and to ensure their well-being.

ARTICLE 19 also calls upon the Vietnamese government to stop using heavy-handed intimidation tactics and the arbitrary use of vague legislation to silence its citizens.

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