Pro-democracy activists jailed in Vietnam

13 May 2008

HO CHI MINH CITY (AFP) — Three pro-democracy activists including an American were handed jail terms of up to nine months on “terrorism” charges in a trial held under tight security Tuesday.

The three, all linked to a US-based party banned in Vietnam, were accused of “inciting riots threatening the national security” of the communist country by distributing leaflets.

“All the three defendants are guilty of terrorism offences,” said presiding judge Vu Phi Long after the brief trial.

They “planned to distribute a huge number of leaflets inciting riots … threatening the security of the state,” he added.

US citizen Nguyen Quoc Quan, 55, was sentenced to six months and ordered deported after serving his sentence.

He was expected to leave Vietnam in the coming days as he has already spent nearly six months in jail since being detained on November 17.

Vietnamese activist Nguyen The Vu, 31, was sentenced to five months and 26 days, which allows him to leave prison on Tuesday.

The third defendant, Nguyen Hai, 57, was handed a nine-month sentence and will remain behind bars for a further three months.

A US embassy spokeswoman welcomed Nguyen Quoc Quan’s release but expressed disappointment with the terrorism charge.

“We are not aware of any information that would support charges of ‘terrorism’ against Nguyen Quoc Quan,” the spokeswoman said.

“We object to the detention and prosecution of any individual for peacefully expressing his or her own views.”

About 100 police were deployed around the courthouse in the southern hub of Ho Chi Minh City, where foreign media were allowed to follow the proceedings on closed-circuit television.

The trio, all accused of being members of Viet Tan (Vietnam Reform Party) — regularly called a “terrorist” organisation by the authorities — were arrested in November after arriving in the former Saigon, state media said.

Three activists arrested with them — US citizen Leon Truong, French radio journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and Vietnamese national Nguyen Trong Khiem — were released last year following international protests.

According to police newspaper Cong An Nhan Dan, the three on trial were assigned by Viet Tan to “enter Vietnam to conduct a terrorism plan to create social security disorder.”

Police “seized nearly 7,000 reactionary flyers, more than 8,000 envelopes and 3,775 stamps,” when the three were arrested, the newspaper said in its Monday edition.

Viet Tan said they were only “preparing to distribute leaflets promoting democracy through non-violent means.”

In court, Quan and Hai admitted to being members of Viet Tan, while Vu said he was simply helping his friends put together the flyers.

Quan told the court that he did “not commit terrorist offences.”

“The content (of the leaflets) does not encourage people to rise up or threaten anyone,” he said.

Vietnam’s state-controlled media has repeatedly accused Viet Tan activists of being “terrorists,” but the party says it is “committed to achieving democratic change through peaceful, non-violent means.”

The group also said that “the legal system in Vietnam is entirely under the control of the Vietnamese Communist Party and all decisions by the court are pre-determined according to political considerations.”

Vietnam, a one-party state, says it does not punish anyone for their political views and only prosecutes criminals for breaking the law.

AFP: Pro-democracy activists jailed in Vietnam

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