Three activists in Vietnam were sentenced on Tuesday to up to three years in jail on what human rights activists call phony and politically motivated charges of causing public disorder after a one-day trial in a southern province.
The activists were accused by the authoritarian government of causing public disorder by creating a “serious obstruction to traffic” while they were on their way to visit a former political prisoner in February.
The People’s Court of Dong Thap province ordered prominent blogger Bui Thi Minh Hang to be imprisoned for three years, while fellow blogger Nguyen Thi Thuy Quynh received a two-year sentence, and Nguyen Van Minh, a Hao Hao Buddhist sect follower, got a two-and-a-half-year term.
Police had held more than 50 supporters of the defendants in a bid to prevent them from attending the one-day trial held amid tight security, a blogger told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
None of the relatives of the three activists were allowed in the courtroom during the proceedings.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch condemned the sentences, saying the Vietnamese government made up the charges to punish the three for their activism.
“The sentencing of these three activists to prison terms on such bogus charges is outrageous and underscores the ease with which the government and the [Communist] party have their way with the country’s politically controlled courts,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told RFA.
“Bui Thi Minh Hang and her colleagues have been railroaded into prison for simply exercising their right to associate and assemble with other persons, and for daring to use their voices to show solidarity for others facing persecution at the hands of the Vietnamese government,” he said.
The verdicts did not come as a surprise to the trio’s lawyers and family members.
“In any country that has no rule of law, a person could be found guilty for whatever reason [the government wanted],” Ha Huy Son, one of four lawyers representing the activists, told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.
Tran Bui Trung, the son of Bui Thi Minh Hang, told RFA that he and his family were “very disappointed” by the verdict.
Prior to the trial, local police were deployed around the courthouse to prevent supporters of the three accused and other activists from attending the trial, the human rights website Vietnam Right Now reported.
Activists in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City had been confined to their homes, while some of those who made it to the province were arrested or locked in their hotels.
On the eve of the trial, local police raided the hotel where Bui Thi Minh Hang’s daughter and son-in-law were staying and confiscated their national identification cards in an attempt to prevent them from attending the trial, the report said.
The U.S. government expressed alarm over the jailing.
“The use of public disorder laws by Vietnamese authorities to imprison government critics for peacefully expressing their political views is alarming,” the U.S. embassy in Hanoi said in a statement Tuesday, calling for the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
Approximately 150 to 200 activists and bloggers are serving prison time in Vietnam simply for exercising their basic rights, activist groups say.
Although Vietnam is a member of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, it has been criticized by international human rights groups for harassing and jailing bloggers and government critics as well as repressing religion freedom.
Reported by An Nguyen for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Khanh Nguyen. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.