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Democracy on Trial in Vietnam: Peaceful advocates receive up to 16 years jail for “subversion”

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PARIS, 21 January 2010 (VIETNAM COMMITTEE) – Mr. Vo Van Ai, President of the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) strongly condemns the condemnation of four pro-democracy activists to 5-16 years in prison for so-called “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” at an unfair trial at the Ho Chi Minh City Supreme People’s Court on Wednesday.

“Vietnam’s first action as President of ASEAN and of the new ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights is appalling. It bears grave implications, both for ASEAN and for the Vietnamese people, for it affirms Hanoi’s determination to muzzle free speech and stifle civil society” said Vo Van Ai. “It also sends a clear message to all Vietnamese: for the Communist Party, advocating political pluralism is treason”.

Former Internet entrepreneur Tran Huynh Duy Thuc, 43, was sentenced to 16 years in prison, French-trained IT engineer and blogger Nguyen Tien Trung, 26, to 7 years, human rights lawyer Le Cong Dinh, 41, and businessman Le Thang Long, 42, to 5 years. They will serve 3-5 years of “probationary detention” – Hanoi’s euphemism for house arrest – after their release. Neither relatives of the accused nor foreign journalists were allowed into the courtroom, but according to the few diplomats who were allowed to watch the trial via a (badly-transmitted) video link in an adjacent room, the unfair trial was prepared in advance. Proceedings that should have lasted two days were hastily wrapped up in one day, and the judges’ conclusions had clearly been pre-prepared. Another member of the group, former lieutenant-colonel Tran Anh Kim, 60, was sentenced to 5.5 years in prison and 3 years house arrest under the same charge on 28 December 2009 (1).

“The men were condemned under Article 79 of the Criminal Code on “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration”. This article, which incurs the death penalty, has been denounced by the United Nations for past 15 years as being incompatible with international human rights law, for it makes no distinction between violent activities such as terrorism and peaceful and legitimate participation in the nation’s political life. By condemning these non-violent activists, Hanoi has shown that the vague definition of Article 79 is deliberate, and that its claims to respect human rights are insincere” said Vo Van Ai. The Court accused the defendants of seeking to overthrow the government by “non-violent means”, he said, “yet the very essence of non-violence is that is does not aim to overthrow”.

“This trial is a terrible admission of Vietnam’s illegitimacy and weakness. Vietnam’s police state has put the courts under siege by mobilizing riot police, blocking communications and resorting to the most base and despicable judicial tricks to do away with citizens who simply yearn for a prosperous and democratic Vietnam. If the government cared truly for its people, it should not resort to terror, nor feel threatened by a few articles circulated on the Internet”, he said. —

(1) See our press release : Vietnam Committee condemns sentence of pro-democracy activist Tran Anh Kim as a “parody of justice” (28 December 2009)

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