Fourteen activists were convicted of subversion Wednesday in Vietnam and sentenced to up to 13 years in prison, in an unusually large case centering on their alleged ties to a banned democracy group.
Vietnamese state media reported that the dissidents had been sent abroad by the “reactionary organization” Viet Tan to draw up plans to overthrow the government, equipped with money, vehicles and training.
Viet Tan, an exiled political party, slammed the case as a “sham trial” to persecute dissidents for peaceful advocacy. “Viet Tan rejects the fabrications peddled by the communist court to rationalize the ‘subversion’ charges,” the U.S.-based group said Wednesday, stressing that the group uses peaceful means to seek democracy and reform.
Human rights groups said the subversion trial was one of the biggest court cases against Vietnamese dissidents in years. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi said it was deeply troubled by the convictions, “part of a disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam.” It called for the jailed activists to be immediately freed.
Three of the convicts received shorter sentences because they pleaded guilty, state media reported. One was given a suspended sentence. The rest face jail terms ranging from three to 13 years, plus years more under house arrest, according to Viet Tan.
Many of the dissidents are linked to the Redemptorist church, a Catholic congregation that has backed bloggers and other peaceful activists, Human Rights Watch said. Some were specifically accused of painting an old school with letters that stand for the South China Sea islands at the center of a dispute with Beijing, a sensitive issue because of Chinese ties with Hanoi; others had tried to protect workers' rights or defend peaceful protesters, the group said.
“To misconstrue the activities of the activists as trying to overthrow the government is baseless – they have been imprisoned only for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” Rupert Abbott of Amnesty International said in a statement Wednesday. The convictions suggest that the Vietnamese government crackdown on dissent “is set to continue in 2013.”
The jailed activists, first arrested more than a year ago, are among a string of dissidents who have recently faced charges in Vietnam, including U.S. citizen and democracy activist Nguyen Quoc Quan and blogger Le Quoc Quan, who was arrested late last month.
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