A former Vietnamese army officer and soldier are facing lengthy prison terms for attempting to form a pro-democracy organization that authorities claim had aimed to overthrow the government, RFA’s Vietnamese Service has learned.
On Friday, the court in Thai Binh province sentenced retired Lt. Colonel Tran Anh Kim and ex-soldier Le Thanh Tung to 13-year and 12-year prison terms, respectively, for “activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration.” The charges fall under Article 79 of Vietnam’s penal code.
The men are accused of preparing to launch the “National Force to Launch the Democracy Flag” group, an organization the authorities claim was an attempt to link up dissatisfied soldiers and former members of the ousted South Vietnamese military in an effort to foment a revolution.
Vo An Don, one of the two lawyers representing the defendants, told RFA that the two men were innocent because they violated no Vietnamese law.
“They only planned to launch the association and had not officially organized or had any operation so their activities were not illegal,” he told RFA.
“Besides, according to the article 25 of the 2013 constitution, all citizens have the right to freedom of speech and association,” Vo added. “They can’t use the law to prosecute and criminalize a person for his opinions.”
During the short trial, the defendants told the court that the group is simply an online association and the members don’t even know one another. The group only had six members and the other four are online members who cannot be identified.
Met for the first time in court
“Both Kim and Tung met each other personally for the first time at the court,” Vo told RFA.
Kim, who served in the Vietnam War, has become one of Vietnam’s most persistent dissidents and had been freed from prison eight months ago after serving a five-and-a-half-year prison term on a similar charge under Article 79 of the country’s penal code.
Le Thanh Tung, an ex-soldier and freelance journalist, was sentenced in August 2012 by a Hanoi court under Article 88 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits “conducting propaganda against the state” for his association with Bloc 8406 -- a banned coalition of political groups advocating democratic reform in the one-party Communist state.
Le was arrested in 2012 and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released in June.
Article 79 and 88 of the penal code are among the broadly-worded national security laws that rights groups and Western governments say Vietnam uses to persecute dissidents.
Kim, who was arrested in September, has long advocated for human rights and democracy in Vietnam.
He was the awarded a Hellman/Hammett grant by the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch in 2009 for his pro-democracy and human rights activities, including circulating petitions protesting injustice and corruption in the Vietnamese Communist Party.
In 2006, Kim became known as a dissident writer, having joined Bloc 8406. He was jailed several timed for his activities and connections to the banned Democratic Party of Vietnam.
Reported by Gia Minh for RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.