Reporters Without Borders said it was shocked by the prison sentences imposed today by a people’s court in the central city of Hue on Father Nguyen Van Ly and four other people who helped him produce a dissident publication called Tu do Ngôn luan. The court found them guilty of "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."
Accepting the recommendations of prosecutor Tran Ky Thao, who accused Father Ly of "extremely serious violations against national security," judge Bui Quoc Hiep sentenced him to eight years in prison. The other four received jail terms ranging from 18 months to six years.
"The verdict and sentences handed down at the end of this summary trial are a slap in the face for the international community, which thought the Vietnamese regime was going to respect its international undertakings," Reporters Without Borders said.
"We call on the European Union to suspend its cooperation programmes in judicial matters, and we will ask the US government to put Vietnam back on the list of countries that do not respect freedom of opinion and religious freedom," the organisation added. "If the international community does not react, all of Vietnam’s dissidents will be in danger."
Reporters Without Borders is posting the 24th issue of Tu do Ngôn luan on its website in homage to Father Ly.
Foreign journalists who managed to enter the courtroom said the trial lasted about three hours. Weakened by a hunger strike, Father Ly refused to stand to give his name to the judge. After hearing the verdict, he shouted: "Down with the Communist Party of Vietnam!"
The four other dissidents convicted with Ly acknowledged being members of the Progression Party of Vietnam, which was founded last year. Nguyen Phong, who received a six-year sentence, told the judge: "I will continue to fight for the values of freedom and democracy on behalf of the Vietnamese nation." Nguyen Binh Thanh, who got five years, said everything he had done was in accordance with "international laws." The other two defendants, Hoang Thi Anh Dao and Le Thi Le Hang, both women, received 18-month jail suspended terms.
Two other dissidents, lawyers Nguyen Van Dai and Le Thi Cong Nhan, are expected to be tried soon for writing pro-democracy articles.
A member of the Bloc 8406 pro-democracy movement, Father Ly has spent 14 of the last 24 years in prison for defending freedom of expression and worship. Detained from 1977 to 1978 and from 1983 to 1992, he received yet another prison sentence - 15 years - in October 2001 for activities linked to the defence of free expression. It was reduced several times and he was released in February 2004.