Six Vietnam activists jailed for attempt 'to overthrow state'

05 Apr 2018 / 23:49 H.

HANOI: Six activists were jailed for between seven and 15 years on Thursday for "attempting to overthrow the state", the harshest sentences in years as the communist country tightens its grip on critics.
The one-party state routinely locks up lawyers, bloggers and dissidents, but critics say a conservative leadership in charge since 2016 is a waging a crackdown that has sent a chill throughout the dissident community.
The six defendants convicted Thursday, including prominent lawyer Nguyen Van Dai who got 15 years in jail, were sentenced after a one-day trial held under heavy security in the Vietnamese capital, lawyers told AFP.
The defendants were all charged under Article 79 for attempting to overthrow the state, the lawyers said.
The case has drawn international scorn and gained widespread attention in the country, where independent civil society groups, political parties and media are all barred by the communist state.
Article 79 carries the maximum penalty of death, but the accused were spared the harshest sentence.
The activists are linked to the Brotherhood for Democracy, a nationwide network of activists that says it has about 80 full-time members.
They were accused of carrying out human rights training, pushing for multi-party democracy and receiving funds from overseas, according to the indictment.
"At the trial today, no evidence showing the defendants' attempt at overthrowing the state was given," lawyer Le Luan told AFP after the one-day trial.
"The charge was very much groundless," he said.
Five of the accused have been previously convicted, included lawyer Dai who has long been a thorn in the side of the communist authorities. Dai served four years in prison in 2007 for anti-state activity.
He was arrested along with his assistant Le Thu Ha — who was sentenced to nine years Thursday — in December 2015.
Both were initially accused of anti-state propaganda before it was increased to the more serious charge of attempting to overthrow the state.
The others, Pham Van Troi, pastor Nguyen Trung Ton, Truong Minh Duc and Nguyen Bac Truyen have been in custody since July 2017.
They were handed between seven and 12 years in jail.
"The trial has been so unfair and illogical. My husband and his friends did nothing wrong," Dai's wife, Vu Minh Khanh, told AFP in tears after the trial.
"All of them refused having committed any crime. Everything they did was not illegal," she said.
Protesters detained
Earlier Thursday, several supporters of the dissidents were hauled off by plainclothes police as they tried to march to the courthouse in central Hanoi.
The group carried signs reading "Democracy is not a crime" and "Oppose suppression of Brotherhood for Democracy" before their march was broken up.
At least two were hauled into unmarked vans by plainclothes security agents and others put on a bus, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Rights groups have decried the uptick in arrests and convictions over the past two years, including Amnesty International which said this week there are at least 97 dissidents behind bars in Vietnam.
Vietnam's foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang rejected claims that activists are being targeted and said the state is "ensuring and promoting human rights" in line with international law.
"In Vietnam, there are no so-called prisoners of conscience and no arrests of people who express their personal viewpoints," she told reporters Thursday, rejecting "biased" information from rights groups. — AFP

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