Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Vietnam Sentences 14 Democracy Activists for Subversion ; Ties to U.S.-Based Group Were Alleged; Terms of 3 to 13 Years Are Imposed

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Vietnam Sentences 14 Democracy Activists for Subversion ; Ties to U.S.-Based Group Were Alleged; Terms of 3 to 13 Years Are Imposed

Article excerpt

The bloggers, writers and political and social activists were convicted of plotting to overthrow the government in what human rights groups said was the largest subversion case to be brought in years.

A court in central Vietnam convicted 14 democracy activists on Wednesday of plotting to overthrow the government and sentenced them to prison terms of 3 to 13 years in what human rights groups said was the largest subversion case to be brought in years.

The defendants are bloggers, writers and political and social activists who were accused of links to a banned pro-democracy group based in the United States that the government accuses of seeking to overthrow it.

Nguyen Thi Hue, a defense lawyer, told The Associated Press in Vietnam that three defendants in the two-day trial, held in Vinh, Nghe An Province, had been sentenced to 13 years and that 11 others had received terms of 3 to 8 years. One of the three-year terms was suspended.

The charges of "activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration," of "undermining of national unity" and of participating in "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam" have often been brought against dissidents in a government crackdown that has waxed and waned over the years.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said this was the largest group to be brought to trial together in recent times. All were arrested in 2011 and had been in custody since then.

"This is part of an ongoing, deepening crackdown we've been seeing for the past year and a half or two years," Mr. Robertson said. "These people are bloggers, land activists, have attended or tried to attend dissident trials, have been involved in dissident activities including supporting poor people and people with disabilities."

He added, "This is a message to other dissidents and bloggers that Vietnam means business."

He said the defendants had been charged after attending a training course in Bangkok held by Viet Tan, an organization that in the 1980s led a resistance movement against the Vietnamese government, but that for the past few decades has declared that it is committed to peaceful political change, democracy and human rights in Vietnam.

The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said in a statement that it was "deeply troubled" by the convictions and called them "part of a disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam."

A number of the defendants are members of the Redemptorist group in the Catholic Church, which has been engaged in community service and has taken up the causes of land seizures and corruption. Redemptorist activists have become increasingly assertive in Vietnamese movements for democracy and human rights, and some churches and parishes have become centers of dissent.

Some defendants had participated in peaceful protests in support of other dissidents who were on trial or in relation to China. …

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