'Pro-democracy' human rights lawyers jailed in Vietnam

A court in Vietnam sentenced two human rights lawyers to up to five years in prison today, bringing to five the number of activists convicted this week in the country’s latest crackdown on dissent.

A court in Vietnam sentenced two human rights lawyers to up to five years in prison today, bringing to five the number of activists convicted this week in the country’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 must also serve four years of probation after his release from jail. Nhan must serve three years probation.

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

During the four-hour trial in the Hanoi People’s Court, 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 organising 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.

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.

Prosecutors accused Dai of criticising Vietnam’s human rights record in order to block one of the country’s highest goals, entrance into the World Trade Organisation, which the country joined in January.

They also said Dai had urged people to boycott Vietnam’s upcoming legislative elections.

They said Nhan had served as the spokeswoman for the outlawed Vietnam Progression Party, joined Bloc 8406 and advised an illegal trade union.

Under questioning from prosecutors, Dai acknowledged possessing pro-democracy documents and meeting with Vietnamese students. Nhan acknowledged joining Bloc 8406 and serving as a spokeswoman for the Vietnam Progression Party.

Vietnam’s latest crackdown against dissidents has been condemned by Western diplomats and international human rights organisations.

The Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court convicted three other dissidents on similar charges yesterday.

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 organisation calling for political change.

He immediately flew to the United States to be reunited with his son, a US citizen.

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

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