The Vietnamese government has jailed 14 people for terms of three to 13 years for ‘plotting to overthrow the state,’ outraging human rights groups who say all were simply social justice campaigners and citizen journalists.
Most were Roman Catholics with links to Viet Tan, or the Vietnam Reform Party, a U.S.-based organization outlawed by Hanoi as a militant group. Charges also included the spreading of anti-state propaganda.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said the defendants and alleged ringleader Ho Duc Hoa were imprisoned for exercising their rights in activities which should never have been criminalized. Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Hanoi issued a statement criticizing the sentences and also saying the 12 men and 2 women were exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Nearly all were bloggers or students.
Viet Tan rejected the allegations and the court’s verdict saying: “The trial held in the city of Vinh, central Vietnam, took place in a climate of political repression even though the proceedings were billed by officials as being open.”
“Authorities mobilized hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes security police to block supporters and relatives of the defendants from gathering outside the court.
“Dozens of supporters — including elderly women and Catholic clergy — were physically attacked by police and temporarily detained,” it said. “Viet Tan rejects the fabrications peddled by the communist court to rationalize the ‘subversion’ charges.”
Verifying claims in Vietnam is not easy and often fraught with problems. It remains a country where the authorities hide the embarrassing at all costs and dissent is not tolerated. Vietnam is also facing an economic paralysis brought on by central government policies — and higher unemployment and lower standards of living will only raise the volume for the government’s critics.
Ordinary Vietnamese increasingly rely on bloggers for information that the heavily censored and sanitized local press are unable to deliver on.
Last month an appeals court upheld a 12 and 10 year sentence meted out to two prominent bloggers jailed in September, which were also “anti-state propaganda” charges.
These were not the first to be arrested under section 88 of the criminal code in regards to propaganda.
“These convictions, along with the detention of human rights lawyer and blogger Le Quoc Quan since December 27, 2012 and the upholding of sentences against bloggers Nguyen Van Hai — also known as Dieu Cay — Ta Phong Tan, and Phan Thanh Hai, are part of a disturbing human rights trend in Vietnam,” the U.S. embassy statement said.
In calling for their release the U.S. also noted their treatment appeared to be inconsistent with Vietnam’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights relating to freedom of expression and due process