Five Vietnamese activists were sentenced Friday in a Ho Chi Minh City court after being found guilty in a one-day trial of involvement in a political group that authorities deemed to have challenged Vietnam’s Communist one-party system.
The five had been charged with “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” under Article 79 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Authorities said their group, the Vietnam National Self-Determination Coalition, had knowingly worked to damage the image and policies of the country's ruling Communist Party.
The group had previously been active in protesting the government’s handling of a massive chemical spill in April 2016 that devastated the country’s central coast, leaving fishermen and tourism workers jobless in four central provinces.
Group leader Luu Van Vinh was given 15 years. Nguyen Quoc Hoan was sentenced to 13 years, Nguyen Van Duc Do to 11 years, Tu Cong Nghia to 10 years, and Phan Trung to 8 years.
Speaking to RFA's Vietnamese Service, defense attorney Dang Dinh Manh said that Nguyen Quoc Hoan during the trial withdrew a statement he had made earlier that all five were involved in the group, saying that police had forced him to implicate the others.
In a statement released on the day before the trial, New York-based Human Rights Watch said “This prosecution shows there is no end in sight when it comes to the government’s stamping down on calls for political pluralism, democracy, or respect for rights.”
“These five advocates are heading to prison for a long time simply for daring to criticize the Communist Party,” HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Global Operations Minar Pimple said in an Oct. 5 statement that in just the past five weeks, 13 Vietnamese had been jailed for blogging, for their writings on social media, or for engaging in otherwise peaceful activities.
“This is a deeply concerning escalation," Pimple said.
"These convictions and jail sentences should all be voided immediately, as should those of over one hundred other prisoners of conscience languishing in Viet Nam’s jails."
Vietnam’s one-party communist government currently holds at least 130 political prisoners, including rights advocates and bloggers deemed threats to national security, Human Rights Watch says.
It also controls all media, censors the internet, and restricts basic freedoms of expression.
Reported and translated by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Written in English by Eugene Whong.