Vietnam under fire over jailing of dissidents

by Ian Timberlake Ian Timberlake – Thu Jan 21

HANOI (AFP) – Vietnam Thursday came under fire from the United States and activists after jailing a group of dissidents for up to 16 years for trying to overthrow the communist regime.

“The accused had already been convicted in the pages of the newspapers before the trial started,” said Shawn McHale, director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at Washington’s George Washington University.

After a day-long trial in Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday, human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, 41, French-trained computer expert and blogger Nguyen Tien Trung, 26, Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, 43, and , 42, were convicted of “activities aimed at subverting the people’s administration.”

Thuc received a 16-year sentence, Trung seven years, while Dinh and Long each got five years, prompting swift criticism from Britain and the US.

“Nobody should be imprisoned for peacefully expressing their opinions. Freedom of expression and the free flow of ideas are essential for a flourishing economy and society,” British foreign office minister Ivan Lewis said.

“Verdicts like these only serve to harm Vietnam’s international standing.”

US ambassador Michael Michalak expressed concern “about the apparent lack of due process in the conduct of the trials” and urged the immediate release of the four, along with other “prisoners of conscience.”

The convictions “also raise serious questions about Vietnam’s commitment to rule of law and reform,” he said.

Months before the trial began state-linked media reported that the accused had all admitted their guilt.

Some observers see their case as linked to next year’s Communist Party Congress, when high-ranking leadership posts will be determined. It was the most high-profile case in a series of arrests and convictions of dissidents and bloggers over the past year.

London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the convicted men were “prisoners of conscience” and said they should be immediately released.

“The trial made a complete mockery of justice, disregarding fundamental human rights such as the principle of presumption of innocence and the right to defence,” said Brittis Edman, Amnesty’s Vietnam researcher.

“The prosecution gave no evidence to support the indictment,” Edman added.

McHale, in an emailed response to questions from AFP, said the indictment “strained belief.”

Judge Nguyen Duc Sau convicted the men of a well-organised non-violent campaign, in collusion with “overseas exile reactionary organisations,” aimed at overturning the government with the help of the Internet.

Trung’s supporters have set up a website where they denounced “this sham of a trial”.

The US-based Vietnam Reform Party, which Vietnam calls a “terrorist group”, issued a statement Thursday which said the convictions showed Vietnam was being held back by its current system.

“In a country where the legal system is an extension of the ruling Communist Party, charges and trials against democracy activists are nothing but a crackdown on political freedom and Vietnam’s progress,” said the group, also known as Viet Tan.

The case sends a message that political pluralism outside of the ruling party will not be tolerated, McHale said. But even though one-party rule may continue for a long time, a more pluralistic environment is evolving.

“I think that the government (and in particular the Communist Party) misfired on this one,” he said.

Unlike in the 1990s, the Vietnamese government has a hard time controlling what its citizens read and think as they travel more widely and explore the Internet, he said.

Source:   YahooNews


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