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Vietnam court reduces dissidents' sentences

Nguyen Phuong Uyen released on probation, a second gets 8-year sentence halved

Vietnam court reduces dissidents' sentences

Relatives and supporters of Nguyen Phuong Uyen and Dinh Nguyen Kha march outside the appeals court in Long An reporter, Long An

August 17, 2013

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In a rare move, an appeal court in southern Vietnam has cut a dissident’s jail term to probation and halved the eight-year term of another, that people say is the result of pressure of human rights groups.

On Friday the Appeals Court of Long An city cut the six-year jail term of Nguyen Phuong Uyen to three years of probation and freed her.

The appeals court also reduced Dinh Nguyen Kha’s eight-year term to four years, followed by three years of house arrest.

Phuong Uyen, a 21-year-old college student, and Nguyen Kha, a 25-year-old computer technician, had been sentenced in mid-May to six and eight years in prison, respectively. They were found guilty of distributing "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam".

Nguyen Thi Nhung, Phuong Uyen’s mother, “was unconscious outside the court house” after she heard her daughter’s sentence cut.

Phuong Uyen’s parents wrote to Obama when he met President Sang on July 25 at the White House and asked him to “save our daughter from prison”.     

“I think I did a little deed, but I am happy and proud that I have raised patriotism among young people so that they are no longer insensible to the nation,” Phuong Uyen told BBC after the court’s verdict.

“I am very happy to return home,” she added.

Phuong Uyen and Nguyen Kha declined legal representatives to defend them at the latest hearing.

Phuong Uyen told the judge that she was a patriot and not a criminal.

“I need no reduction in the sentence but I want you to try me fairly. Opposing the Communist Party does not mean opposing the country and the people,” she said.

The two defendants’ relatives were not allowed to attend the trial.

Some 200 police and security officials guarded the court building and prevented people from taking photos or attending the trial that state-run media called an “open court hearing.” They also detained five bloggers who were carrying banners outside the court.

About a hundred bloggers along with the defendants’ relatives and supporters marched on streets around the court, chanting “Phuong Uyen - Nguyen Kha innocent.”

The reduction in sentences is a rare case in the one-party communist country, especially for political crimes. Vietnam's court of appeals usually upholds sentences given by lower courts.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Asia division of Human Rights Watch said the decision was a positive result of sustained pressure on Vietnam.

"It's likely that international pressure had something to do with this outcome," he said in a statement after the hearing.

"While this result is beyond expectations, it doesn't change the fact that these two should have never been charged or imprisoned in the first place," he added.

State-run media has made no comment on why the appeals court cut the dissidents’ sentences.

On August 14, an appeals court in Ho Chi Minh City also commuted Pham Nguyen Thanh Binh’s three-year jail term to two years. Binh was convicted of conducting propaganda against the government last year.

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