The Supreme People’s Court in Vinh city yesterday upheld the sentences of two Catholic students charged with spreading anti-government propaganda, while reducing the sentence of a third student for admitting his guilt.
In May, the court passed sentence on Anthony Dau Van Duong, Peter Tran Huu Duc and Anthony Chu Manh Son, all aged 23, for allegedly distributing anti-government leaflets.
Duong and Duc received sentences of 42 and 39 months, respectively. Son was given a 36-month sentence, which was reduced yesterday to 30 months.
The court reduced Son’s sentence because “he repented of his wrongdoing and reported truth to the police,” the state-run Nghe An website reported yesterday.
The defendants appealed their conviction after the trial in May.
About 700 people including Catholics who traveled from Hanoi and several priests, gathered in the rain in front of the courthouse to pray and sing hymns in support of the three students.
Police and security officials were deployed around the courthouse. Church sources said they confiscated cameras from the crowd and that at least five people were arrested.
The students were arrested in May 2011 for allegedly handing out 5,000 leaflets last year that called for a boycott of national elections
The Nghe An
website reported that the defendants gave 5,000 leaflets that demanded a multi-party political system, condemned Communist Party policies and urged the rejection of the 2011 national assembly elections.
A fourth student, John Baptist Hoang Phong, 24, was also convicted in May but received a 24-month suspended sentence.
The defendants were among 17 Christian students arrested by the government last year, according to local rights groups.
A petition submitted to Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung last month by a coalition of local and international rights groups urged the immediate release of all the students.
“We would like to call on your government to withdraw charges from those who are still kept in prison without trial and the release of those who have been sentenced,” the petition said.
Yesterday's decision follows the sentencing of three Christian bloggers earlier this week who received lengthy prison terms also for anti-government activities.
Nguyen Van Hai and Maria Ta Phong Tan received sentences of 12 years and 10 years, respectively to be followed by five years of house arrest. Phan Tan Hai received a sentence of four years with three years of additional house arrest.
The decision provoked stern responses from the United States and the European Union, as well as calls for their immediate release.
Court sentences Christian bloggers
Court sentences four Catholic students