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Vietnam 29 March 2007

Judges urged not to pass jail sentence on catholic priest who edits dissident newspaper

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Vietnamese judicial authorities not to impose prison sentences on Father Nguyen Van Ly, one of the editors of the dissident publication Tu do Ngôn luan, and his two co-defendants, who are to be tried tomorrow in the central city of Hue on a charge of "hostile propaganda against government," punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

"Father Ly’s trial is a very important test for the credibility of the Vietnamese judicial system," Reporters Without Borders said. "Will he be found not guilty, as someone who has just expressed his opinion in the press? Vietnam’s constitution protects free expression, but the Communist Party does not tolerate criticism. We call on the judges to adhere to the law and acquit the defendants."

Two men, Nguyen Phong and Nguyen Binh Thanh, and two women, Hoang Thi Anh Dao and Le Thi Le Hang, were investigated by the police of Thua Thien Hue province at same time as Ly, a 60-year-old Catholic priest and dissident. But only the two men are being tried with him.

Reporters Without Borders has analysed the conclusions of the police investigation, which was completed on 13 March. They try to establish that Ly and his four accomplices violated article 88 of the criminal code, which punishes "propaganda against the government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam."

Led by Col. Dong Chinh Quy, the police first of all accuse Ly of violating the terms of the sentence of five years of house arrest that he received in October 2001. They then offer a long list of "criminal activities" committed by the group, including the gathering, printing and dissemination of propaganda hostile to the government. Ly is also accused of giving interviews to international radio stations.

Phong, 32, is accused of posting the Progressive Party of Vietnam’s platform online. Tanh, 51, an electrician, allegedly helped Father Ly to buy and maintain the computer equipment needed to produce the newspaper. Dao, 21, is accused of buying computer material and helping the priest to key the newspaper and dissident documents into his computers. And finally Hang, 44, a teacher, is alleged to have uploaded, printed and disseminated the newspaper.

The head of the prosecutor’s office took the decision to prosecute Ly, Phong and Tanh under article 88 on 15 March. The two women may not be prosecuted.

Agence France-Presse has reported that, exceptionally, foreign journalists will be allowed to attend the start of the trial. Father Ly’s friends fear that he will be tried in absentia because, according to the authorities, he is too weak to travel to Hue.

Tu do Ngôn luan meanwhile continues to be published, although Father Ly is under house arrest and dissident lawyer Nguyen Van Dai is in prison. Two other priests, Chan Tin and Phan Van Loi, are currently producing the dissident newspaper, despite being under police surveillance.

The official press has been publishing many articles accusing the dissidents of being "criminals." Today, the Communist Party of Vietnam website has an article that is extremely critical of Vietnamese who are involved in creating political parties.

The case against Ly began when a group of 60 policemen carried out raids on an archdiocesan building in Hue and on the homes of the defendants from 16 to 20 February, seizing a total of eight computers, six printers, nine mobile phones, 147 SIM cards and many documents.

Ly is a member of the pro-democracy movement called "Bloc 8406". He spent several years in prison in 1977 and 1978 and from 1983 to 1992 as a result of his activism in support of freedom of expression and worship. He was sentenced again in October 2001 to 15 years in prison for activities linked to the defence of free speech. The sentence was commuted several times and be finally freed in February 2004.




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