Catholics in Ha Noi condemned a prison sentence handed to a dissident lawyer and human rights activist yesterday, calling it “too severe and unjust.” Cu Huy Ha Vu, 54, who was arrested in November, was sentenced to seven years in jail by the People’s Court in Ha Noi for spreading anti-government propaganda. “We are really disappointed by such a heavy sentence for Vu, who is innocent and loves the nation,” Anna Nguyen Thi Hue, 60, said near the court building. Hue said she and others from Thai Ha parish “came to support him and pray that justice would be carried out.” She said hundreds of policemen and plainclothes security officials forcibly dispersed crowds outside the court and prevented people from gathering in streets and parks nearby. They also confiscated cameras and cell phones of people taking photos. One elderly Catholic from Ham Long parish said the sentence was grossly “unjust because he [Vu] was doing nothing to harm the country only expressing his views on political, social and environmental issues.” The government risks losing the trust of the people, he warned. On April 2-3, thousands of local Catholics attended candlelight vigils at Bao Long, Ham Long, Thai Ha and Van Phuc parishes to support Vu. Redemptorist Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung, head of Thai Ha parish, told 4,000 people at the church on April 2 that Vu’s wife - lawyer Nguyen Thi Duong Ha – and relatives had asked the parish to pray for Vu, even though they are non-Catholics. They also attended the prayers at the church. Vu is the son of a renowned Vietnamese poet who was a fellow revolutionary and confidant of Ho Chi Minh. The US department of state issued a statement saying the US was "deeply concerned by the April 4 conviction and sentencing" and "troubled by the apparent lack of due process in the conduct of the trial, and the continued detention of several individuals who were peacefully seeking to observe the proceedings." "Vu’s conviction runs counter to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and raises serious questions about Vietnam’s commitment to rule of law and reform. No individual should be imprisoned for exercising the right to free speech," read the statement. VT13858.1648
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