Vietnam has sentenced a pastor of a banned church to 11 years in prison for "undermining unity" by having ties with antigovernment groups and writing and distributing material that slandered government authorities, state media reported Tuesday.
The one-party communist state has also revoked the visas of three Rome-based representatives of the Roman Catholic church seeking to hold talks about the possible beatification of a late cardinal who was forced into exile, according to church officials.
Mennonite clergyman Nguyen Cong Chinh, 43, was found guilty of writing and spreading material that slandered government authorities.
"He distorted the domestic situation, calumniating the government, the state and the army in interviews with the foreign media," the English-language Vietnam News daily said, quoting the court.
The Mennonite clergyman's one-day court hearing was held on Monday in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai, where he was arrested nearly a year ago.
In a separate development, Vietnam has revoked the visas of a three-man Roman Catholic church delegation from Rome that was set to arrive in the country on Friday, the Associated Press reported.
The delegation was sent by the diocese of Rome, which is considering pushing ahead with a cause for the beatification of the late Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who was appointed deputy archbishop of Saigon days before the South Vietnamese capital fell to the communist North in 1975.
A Vatican official in Rome, who has followed the case but spoke on condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity, told the Associated Press that the three were traveling on tourist visas. He said he had no additional information.
The cancellation of the visas was done through the Vietnamese embassy in Italy, some reports said.
Thuan was a nephew of Ngo Dinh Diem, president of U.S.-backed South Vietnam who was assassinated in 1963 during the Vietnam War.
In 1991, Thuan was forced into exile in Rome after spending 13 years in a communist reeducation camp. He died in 2002, one year after being appointed cardinal.
Vietnam and the Vatican held talks last month in Hanoi, but the two sides did not reach a breakthrough in establishing formal ties.
There are six million Roman Catholics in Vietnam, the second-largest Catholic community in Southeast Asia after the Philippines.
Religious activity is closely monitored in the communist Vietnamese state.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a congressional watchdog, said the Vietnamese government controls all religious communities, severely restricts and penalizes independent religious practice, and represses individuals and groups viewed as challenging its authority.
Vietnam continues to imprison and detain individuals for religious activity and for advocacy of religious freedom, the commission said, adding that independent religious activity remains illegal while legal protections for government-approved religious organizations are vague.
Even registered religious organizations such as the Redemptorist churches in Vietnam's capital Hanoi and its largest city Ho Chi Minh City have been harassed repeatedly, Human Rights Watch said.
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.