Vietnamese Court Sentences Dissidents

The Associated Press
Friday, May 11, 2007; 2:57 AM

HANOI, Vietnam -- A court sentenced two human rights lawyers Friday, bringing to five the number of activists convicted this week in Vietnam's latest crackdown on dissent.

Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to five years and Le Thi Cong Nhan to four years for advocating a multiparty state in Vietnam, where the ruling communist party does not tolerate challenges to its rule.

Dai also must serve four years of probation after his release from jail; Nhan must serve three years of probation.

"The trial today was not right," Nhan said shortly before the close of the four-hour proceeding. "I reject this trial."

Prosecutors said Dai, 38, and Nhan, 28, had violated article 88 of Vietnam's criminal code, which broadly prohibits spreading propaganda against the government.

Prosecutors said Dai and Nhan had collaborated with overseas pro-democracy advocates and used the Internet to advance their views.

They also accused the defendants of working with Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly, a dissident Catholic priest who was sentenced to eight years in prison in March. Ly was convicted of organizing an independent political group called the Vietnam Progression Party and Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy group that circulated petitions calling for a multiparty state.

"Did your actions constitute a crime?" a prosecutor asked Nhan.

"Absolutely not," she replied.

Dai also denied he had broken any laws, saying he had merely exercised his right to free expression and association.

Reporters and Western diplomats were not allowed in the courtroom but viewed the trial on closed-circuit television in a separate room. Because of a bad sound connection, much of the proceedings were inaudible.

When the trial was over, Western diplomats decried the outcome.

"We are aware of nothing to indicate that these individuals were engaged in activities that conflict with rights regarding the peaceful expression of political thought widely recognized under international law," said Ralph Falzone of the U.S. embassy in Hanoi.

Alexis Andres, a European Union diplomat, said the evidence against Dai and Nhan was "very weak" and the sentences excessive.

"Nobody should be condemned for peacefully expressing their views," Andres said.

Before their March 6 arrests, Dai and Nhan provided human rights training to Vietnamese students. Dai also represented ethnic minorities who were members of Protestant faiths.

The Ho Chi Minh City People's Court convicted three other dissidents on similar charges Thursday. Le Nguyen Sang was sentenced to five years in prison, Nguyen Bac Truyen to four years, and Huynh Nguyen Dao to three years.

On Wednesday, Vietnam released Phan Van Ban, who was jailed for 22 years after he joined an organization calling for political change. He immediately flew to the United States to be reunited with his son, a U.S. citizen.

Journalist and author Tran Khai Thanh Thuy, another pro-democracy advocate, was arrested in April and remains in jail. Another dissident, Tran Quoc Hien, is scheduled to go on trial in Ho Chi Minh City next week.

© 2007 The Associated Press