Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage at the prison sentences which a Hanoi people’s court imposed today on two human rights lawyers and cyber-dissidents at end of a trial lasting only four hours. Convicted of "defamation" and "propaganda against the regime" under article 88 of the criminal code, Nguyen Van Dai was sentenced to five years and Le Thi Cong got four.
"The crackdown launched by the Vietnamese government is ruthless and frenzied", the press freedom organisation said. "A total of five dissidents have been given prison sentences in Stalinist trials in a week. The international community, especially the European Union, which had eight diplomats at today’s trial, must take action to obtain the release of the seven cyber-dissidents now held, and the release of the Catholic priest and journalist, Nguyen Van Ly."
The judge at today’s trial said Dai and Cong "seriously violated Vietnam’s constitution and laws by denigrating the Communist Party’s role" and "misrepresented the situation of democracy and human rights in Vietnam."
The two dissidents were arrested on 6 March for writing and distributing texts critical of the government, especially online, for responding to questions from foreign news media and for using their position as lawyers to get their message out.
Agence France-Presse said there was a heavy police presence at the courthouse. Both Vietnamese and foreign journalist were there, as were a dozen foreign diplomats, who tried to follow the trial on a poor-quality close-circuit television screen outside the courtroom.
Dai was not very cooperative during the trial and got a warning from the judge. Cong acknowledged being a member of the Vietnam Progress Party and Bloc 8406, a pro-democracy movement that is banned, but he denied violating article 88.
Of late, the authorities have been having frequent recourse to article 88 to arrest and prosecute dissidents. It was used by a court in Ho Chi Minh City yesterday to sentence three cyber-dissidents, Huynh Nguyen Dao, Nguyen Bac Truyen and Le Nguyen Sang, to three, four and five years in prison, respectively.
Another Bloc 8406 member, Tran Quoc Hien, who is the spokesman of the United Workers-Farmers Organization (UWFO), is to appear in court on 15 May on charges of "sabotaging" national security and violating article 88.
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